David Hicks, extraordinary rendition, enemy combatants… for years civil
liberties campaigners have been trying to get a larger section of the
public to care about the post 9/11 erosion of civil liberties. Now, in
one swift move, the US and UK governments may have done it for them.

On Tuesday, the British High Court rejected an appeal by three NatWest
bankers against an extradition request by the US on fraud charges
arising from the collapse of Enron. A case of alleged international
profit-skimming by three transatlantic Masters of the Universe? No. The
allegedly criminal transactions all took place in the UK, involving UK
banks.

The three can be charged by prosecutors in Texas because the US
reserves the right to extend its criminal jurisdiction across the
world, as long as Americans are involved at some point in the alleged
activity. And the three are being hustled out of the country because
the US and the UK have developed anti-terror ‘fast-track’ extradition
procedures which drastically limit the evidence that can be presented
by those resisting legal rendition.

The upshot? The NatWest Three are, to use a technical legal term,
f-cked. With the US belatedly applying zero tolerance to white
collar crime, they’re facing sentences of ten to fifteen years each, in
American maximum security prisons. Should their appeal to the Lords
fail, they will have to fly out all their witnesses, experts, documents
etc etc and conduct their defence in a hostile jurisdiction.

The implications should be obvious. Anyone is under threat from these
sorts of laws, which have rolled over from the war on terror. Are you an IT worker
involved in a American-Australian company joint project? A funds
manager managing assets in the US? Should things get ugly and talk of
information theft, fraud or much more arise, there is absolutely no
reason why you couldn’t find yourself in the same position. That’s one reason
why UK business peak body, the CBI, has taken up the cause of the
NatWest Three’s defence.

Still, not to worry. We know the Australian government always stands up for its citizens lost in the US prison abyss, don’t we?

Peter Fray

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