Mike Lynch, the billionaire founder of the software company Autonomy, could be extradited to the US, a London court ruled Thursday in a case seen as an important test of the willingness of British courts to block the removal of business leaders to the US . US.
Lynch, one of the UK’s best-known tech entrepreneurs, has been indicted in the US on 17 conspiracy and fraud charges related to Hewlett-Packard’s $11 billion purchase of Autonomy in 2011.
Lynch is accused of manipulating Autonomy’s accounts, causing HP to pay an additional $5 billion for the company. He denies wrongdoing.
His extradition case was heard earlier this year, but the hearings were postponed pending the outcome of a High Court ruling civil fraud lawsuit filed against Lynch by Hewlett Packard Enterprise over the Autonomy sale.
But after hearing that the Supreme Court ruling would not be handed down for several months, district judge Michael Snow told Lynch on Thursday that he dismissed his case and did not believe that extradition was an abuse of process. He gave Lynch 14 days to appeal the ruling.
Lynch’s argument against extradition to the US was based on a defense known as a “forum bar”, which allows the courts to block extradition if much of the alleged criminal activity had taken place in the UK.
His lawyer Alex Bailin QC had argued before the Westminster Magistrates Court earlier this year that the UK Serious Fraud Office had reserved the right to prosecute Lynch in the UK if his extradition is blocked. The SFO dropped its investigation in 2015, saying it had ceded parts of its investigation to the US.
The US government has argued that Lynch should be prosecuted in the US because “America was the location of the intended victims of the fraud” and HP’s shareholders were primarily based in the US.
The case has broader significance for British businessmen and sets an important precedent for those accused of criminal misconduct. Bailin told the extradition hearing earlier this year that business leaders “should be held accountable here” because “the US is not the global marshal of business”.
The UK-US extradition treaty signed with the US in 2003 has long been criticized by MPs for favoring the US and being used to target both suspected white-collar suspects and terrorists.
District Judge Michael Snow, who heard the case at Westminster Magistrates Court, did not have to rule on Lynch’s guilt or innocence on the charges, but only whether the case meets the legal criteria for extradition.
Despite the decision, extradition may involve lengthy appeals. The losing party can appeal to the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.