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10 August, 2021 - 22:31 By Tony Quested

Entrepreneurs urge UK to stand firm in facing US Lynch mob

Cambridge hi-tech and life science entrepreneurs have expressed concern that a UK court has sanctioned the extradition of former Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch to the US on charges of alleged fraud in the sale of the business to US giant HP for $11.7 billion in 2011.

Dr Lynch denies all allegations and says he will appeal if Home Secretary Priti Patel backs the extradition judgement.

Senior politicians and entrepreneurs believe extradition of a UK boss of a home grown company to a foreign court sets a dangerous precedent.

Featurespace CEO Martina King told Business Weekly: “The UK’s extradition treaty with the US lacks parity. A critical test set out in the treaty is that any British request for extradition from the US must include ‘such information as would provide a reasonable basis to believe that the person sought committed the offence for which extradition is requested.’

“This requirement does not apply to requests submitted by the US to the UK. In Mike’s case it would be sensible to consider the extradition request once the UK judge has determined the outcome of the civil trial, the result of which is imminent. I’m sure our political leaders can agree with that.

“Mike’s contribution to the UK tech industry is undisputed. Ensuring he is treated fairly is the least we should expect for a British Citizen and for the UK’s tech entrepreneurs, that requirement is essential.”

Serial Cambridge tech entrepreneur Dr Phil O’Donovan urges the UK to stay strong. He said: “Mike founded his Cambridge-based company in 1996 and the US Department of Justice is pursuing criminal charges against him personally despite the fact that, prior to the acquisition, HP paid for the deal to be forensically examined by a raft of the largest blue-chip accountants and investment banks to ensure that Autonomy’s books were in order. 
 
“Following the acquisition and management changes at HP, the American company decided that it was unhappy with the deal and, under the UK-US extradition treaty signed in 2003 when Tony Blair was PM, decided that it wanted Mike brought over to the US for questioning.  

“This extradition treaty has long been criticised by MPs for being heavily weighted in favour of the US and used to target alleged white-collar crime suspects as well as terrorists. 

“The treaty was denigrated at the time and has, since then, proven to be a one-way street for British business executives sought by US courts. Some 17 years have passed since the treaty tool was signed and little or nothing has been done to hone both edges of its blade. 

“The British judge in question with regards to the extradition order stated: ‘I am satisfied that the huge financial losses caused to HP in the USA, the losses suffered by American investors and the significant reputational damage caused to HP strongly favours extradition.

“However, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) had already investigated the HP deal in 2013 and dropped the case two years later because of “insufficient evidence.”

“Despite the SFO deciding that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute in the UK, this London court has ruled that a British citizen who ran a British company listed on the London Stock Exchange and, based on allegations about his conduct in the UK, must be extradited to the US!  

“If no UK laws have been broken then we should not despatch Dr Lynch to the US: Our long relationship with that country is close and our affinities are strong so we should not feel uncomfortable in refusing this extradition. 

“If the Mike Lynch case does not cause the needle of government to twitch then I do not know what would. People who are close to, and have an appreciation of the under representation of science, engineering and business in our Parliament and civil service have in many cases come to the conclusion that government’s insouciance is a luxury that the country cannot continue to afford. 

“It will be only another two parliaments before the cracks in the foundations of our society will be sufficiently wide to need plugging in a major way.”

Life Science deals between the UK and US are now as prolific as DeepTech transactions and serial biotech entrepreneur and investor Dr Darrin Disley urged the Government to stop and think hard about one court’s decision to extradite Dr Lynch.

He told Business Weekly: “Without debating the rights and wrongs of the case, because only a few people are sufficiently privy to them, there is a broader issue that is worthy of consideration. Due process in business and dealmaking without political influence is important.

“Entrepreneurs in the Life Sciences and DeepTech – areas featuring with growing frequency in major cross-border deals – should be concerned by developments that could see them subject to US oversight. 

“After all, the US is arguably where the greatest competition to the UK lies in these technology segments, which are crucial to the health of our economy.”

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