British tech tycoon Mike Lynch faces ‘degrading’ treatment in a US prison if he is extradited on fraud charges, a court was told yesterday.
Lawyers defending the 55-year-old warned that he suffers from health problems and cannot be guaranteed humane treatment if he is found guilty and imprisoned on the other side of the Atlantic.
And they said there was a ‘realistic possibility’ of criminal prosecution in the UK if his extradition is blocked – adding that ‘the United States is not the global marshal of the corporate world’.
High stakes: Autonomy founder Mike Lynch outside court yesterday where he is fighting extradition to the US on fraud charges
They are calling for Lynch’s extradition to be blocked on grounds that the claims against him mostly concern actions in the UK and must be dealt with by the British justice system.
Lynch, who founded the Cambridge-based software firm Autonomy, is accused of cooking the books at his company before it was sold to Hewlett Packard for £7billion. He denies the allegations.
His case is seen as a key test of the ‘forum bar’ exception to the UK-US extradition treaty, which critics say is unbalanced.
But the US government yesterday dismissed Lynch’s protestations as ‘nonsense’ and said his actions caused indisputable harm to a plethora of American victims, including businesses and individuals.
The opening clashes came on the first day of the high-stakes extradition hearing, which is taking place at Westminster magistrates’ court this week.
If Lynch is extradited and found guilty in the US, he faces a decade in prison.
He has hired Alex Bailin, the star QC who successfully defended Pentagon hacker Lauri Love from extradition, to lead his legal team.
Yesterday, Bailin told District Judge Michael Snow that ‘family man’ Lynch, who is married with two daughters, was an upstanding British citizen with ‘exceptionally strong’ links to the UK and was someone who had at one stage served as a Government scientific adviser.
But he said the multi-millionaire lived in fear of arrest after US authorities laid charges against him, and that he could now be subjected to poor treatment at their hands if he was found guilty and jailed.
Lynch suffered from complex health conditions and if he was forced to share a jail cell with other inmates without private space he would be at risk of serious infection, Bailin said.
The QC told the court: ‘There is no assurance from the [US] government that he will receive any of the medical items that he needs or that he will go to a specific prison.
‘The reality is that Mr Lynch would face a degrading experience, with his particular medical and hygiene needs.
‘He would not have access to private facilities… and there is therefore a real risk that he would be unable to perform his daily hygiene needs… and that would cause a cycle of getting infections.’ Bailin added: ‘The United States is not the global marshal of the corporate world.
‘This case belongs in Britain: it concerns events, the overwhelming majority of which occurred in the United Kingdom. The forum bar in the extradition act was introduced and designed to provide protection in cases precisely such as this.’
The Autonomy fraud allegations, following the sale to HP in 2011, were investigated by the UK Serious Fraud Office but dropped due to a lack of evidence.
But Bailin told the hearing that the SFO reserved the right to prosecute Lynch if his extradition is blocked.
‘What is clear is that a decision in Mr Lynch’s favour by this court would not be an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card,’ he said.
Speaking for the US government, Mark Summers QC insisted that Lynch would be provided with ‘adequate’ care by American authorities.
He said that it ‘cannot be the case that someone with gastro-enterological problems is rendered immune from prison’.
He said: ‘This case is straightforward. This was an English company, cooking its books in England, making it appear what it wasn’t, and then persuading an American company to grossly overpay for it, based on those cooked books.
‘The only unusual feature of this case was the titanic scale of the money involved.’
Former Autonomy finance chief Sushovan Hussain, a close ally of Lynch, was extradited and found guilty of fraud by a US court in 2019. He was jailed for five years.
Lynch has not left the UK since learning of the American extradition bid two years ago and has handed over his British and Irish passports to the authorities.
He appeared in person yesterday after spending the lockdown at his £6million Suffolk home with his family. The hearing continues.
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