No Autonomy: US requests extradition of UK tech titan

February 2, 2021

2 min read

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What's going on here?

US authorities are attempting to extradite Mike Lynch, founder of software giant Autonomy, over alleged fraud on the £7bn sale to Hewlett Packard (HP) in 2011. 

What does this mean?

The charges including 14 counts of conspiracy and fraud come despite the UK’s Serious Fraud Office already investigating and deciding not to pursue the case. HP is suing Mr Lynch in London’s High Court on the basis that the manipulation of accounting information led to an extra $5bn being paid for Autonomy. Mr Lynch denies any wrongdoing. However, if he is extradited, he could face a decade in jail.  

The extradition request has prompted calls by many prominent political and business leaders for the government to intervene. In a letter to The Times, signed by figures such as former Brexit Secretary David Davis and former Barclays chairman Marcus Agius, Boris Johnson was urged to step in, arguing, “we’ve surrendered sovereignty over our own justice system for too long”. Boris Johnson’s spokesman has stated that the US-UK extradition system is “working as it should” after a review, despite Johnson’s suggestion last year that the agreement was “unbalanced”. 

What's the big picture effect?

Critics of the 2003 extradition treaty argue that it is stacked in the US’ favour. The idea that the US justice system should be given priority adds tension to the long-standing sentiment that such extradition agreements signal an erosion of UK sovereignty. A key principle of sovereignty is that each state has legal authority over its people and extradition would be overriding the UK’s decision not to bring charges on this matter. The extradition treaty having been signed shortly after the 9/11 attacks also raise concerns that an agreement made with terrorism in mind is now being exploited by the US. 

Of major concern is also the statistical likelihood of a guilty conviction in the US justice system. In the US, there is a pressure to agree to a plea-bargain, as there can be a huge disparity between sentencing in a plea-bargain and a guilty verdict. As such, around 97% of criminal cases within the federal system will be settled by a plea-bargain as opposed to going to trial in front of a jury. With a system so highly geared towards conviction, any extradited person will most likely be found guilty.

The agreement has also been described as “lopsided”. For example, for the US to extradite its citizen to the UK, there must be “probable cause”, yet for the UK to be compelled to extradite citizens, there is the lower threshold of “reasonable suspicion”. The frustration around this issue also comes against the backdrop of the US seeming to protect its own. The US has refused to extradite Anne Sacoolas to the UK after she caused the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn by dangerous driving and claimed diplomatic immunity. 

Mike Lynch will appear before magistrates in February 2021 to contest the extradition request. With Number 10 currently avoiding intervention, the question will be whether avoiding conflict with Joe Biden’s new administration will take priority over warnings of “surrendering sovereignty”.  

Report written by Yaeno Fernandez 

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