Mike Lynch, the billionaire founder of the software company Autonomy, can be extradited to the US, a London court ruled on Thursday in a case which is being seen as a major test of British courts’ willingness to block the removal of business executives to the US.
Lynch, one of the UK’s best-known technology entrepreneurs, has been charged in the US with 17 counts of conspiracy and fraud relating to Hewlett-Packard’s purchase of Autonomy for $11bn in 2011.
Lynch is accused of allegedly manipulating Autonomy’s accounts, leading HP to pay an extra $5bn for the company. He denies wrongdoing.
His extradition case was heard earlier this year but hearings were adjourned to await the outcome of a ruling on a High Court civil fraud lawsuit brought against Lynch by Hewlett Packard Enterprise over the Autonomy sale.
But after hearing that the High Court ruling was not due to be handed down for several months, District Judge Michael Snow told Lynch on Thursday that he rejected his case and did not believe extradition was an abuse of process. He gave Lynch 14 days to appeal the ruling.
Lynch’s argument against extradition to the US was founded on a defence known as “forum bar”, which allows the courts to block extradition if a large part of the alleged criminal activity took place in the UK.
His barrister Alex Bailin QC had argued to Westminster magistrates court earlier this year that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office had reserved its right to prosecute Lynch in the UK if his extradition is blocked. The SFO dropped its probe 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 intended victims of the fraud” and HP’s shareholders were predominantly US-based.
The case has wider significance for British business executives, setting an important precedent for those accused of criminal wrongdoing. Bailin told the extradition hearing earlier this year that business executives should be “held accountable here” because the “US is not the global marshal of the corporate world.”
The UK-US extradition treaty signed with the US in 2003 has long been criticised by MPs for being weighted in favour of the US and being used to target alleged white-collar suspects as well as terrorists.
District Judge Michael Snow, who heard the case at Westminster magistrates court, did not have to decide Lynch’s guilt or innocence of the charges but merely whether the case meets the legal criteria for extradition.
Despite the decision, extradition can involve a lengthy appeal process. The losing party can appeal to the High Court as well as the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.