The Natwest Three: victims of an unjust and one-sided treaty

The case of the Natwest Three is no ordinary fraud case. The plight of the three bankers has raised concerns about the fairness of Britain's 2003 extradition treaty with the US, and the negative effect it could have on British business.


The Natwest Three: the case of the one-sided treaty

The NatWest Three are alleged to have committed a crime in Britain, while operating in Britain with a British employer, as The Spectator points out, yet they are to stand trial in the US. Blame it on the "debacle" of an extradition treaty signed between the US and UK in 2003. The governments agreed that both countries could extradite criminals primarily terrorist suspects without having to present prima facie evidence. Britain has ratified the treaty, but the US hasn't, despite finding the time to ratify extradition treaties with Lithuania and Peru.

As matters stand, "US marshals can stroll into town and haul us off" without even so much as a prima facie case, while we have no such rights over US citizens, says Damian Reece in The Daily Telegraph. "Does that make you feel a little less safe in your home?" "It cannot be right," says Boris Johnson, also in The Daily Telegraph, that we hand over these bankers simply because their actions are thought to have some bearing on the Enron imbroglio; their alleged crimes took place here and no UK authority intends to prosecute them.

Meanwhile, there are still IRA suspects at large in the US who will never be extradited to the UK, thanks to the Irish/American lobby the reason the US will almost certainly never ratify the 2003 treaty themselves. The Labour government is failing to defend its citizens; it should "put this unjust and one-sided treaty on hold", easing transatlantic tensions and restoring "symmetry" to US/UK relations. This affair has highlighted an "appalling breach of trust" in a long-treasured relationship, says The Spectator.

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It has hardly helped matters that Tony Blair insisted in parliament last week that the US and Britain have the same evidentiary requirements in extradition cases, says William Rees Mogg in The Mail on Sunday. "Is he a liar or is he merely ignorant of matters on which he has a duty to have informed himself?"

The Natwest Three: a corporate witch-hunt?

But it's not just Blair's renewed kow-towing to the US that has prompted a groundswell of support for the NatWest Three among business luminaries.

There is a "witch hunt" in the US for white-collar criminals, says Richard Wachman in The Observer. Following a series of corporate frauds, "vicious sentences" are now the norm; the deceased Enron chairman Kenneth Lay could have been sentenced to 185 years, explains Patience Wheatcroft in The Sunday Telegraph. That's why 98% of those indicted plead guilty before a trial. So companies operating in the global marketplace are worried they could end up facing a prosecutor in a system that does not seem to offer a fair trial.

Global firms could soon be doing a lot less business in London, says

Anthony Hilton in the Evening Standard. Paris and Frankfurt, hoping

to rival London as global financial centres, will be tempted to remind businesses that they would never hand over workers on the basis of a one-sided treaty. The message will be: "move out of London before you get your collar felt" by a US attorney.

For an in-depth look at the implications of the Natwest Three's extradition to the US, read: What the case of the Natwest Three means for British business. For the latest on this and other stories, see our news section.

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.