Pakistani sent A-fuel to Libya, report says

Posted in Broader Middle East | 27-Feb-04 | Author: Raymond Bonner and Craig S. Sm| Source: The New York Times

Tripoli had all parts for nuclear bomb, Malaysians assert

ISTANBUL - The global nuclear trading network headed by the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan shipped partly processed uranium directly to Libya aboard a Pakistani airplane in 2001, providing Libya’s secret program with the fuel stock as well as the designs and equipment to make a nuclear bomb, according to a report by Malaysian investigators released Friday.

The report, released in Kuala Lumpur, was based primarily on Malaysian authorities’ interrogation of B.S.A. Tahir, the principal middleman in Khan’s network. It provides a wealth of new evidence that middlemen and engineers in Turkey, Germany, Switzerland and Britain, as well as Dubai and Malaysia, were also closely involved in the clandestine effort by Libya starting in 1997 to build a nuclear weapon.

The uranium shipment was one of many deliveries of nuclear components to Libya that began with a meeting here in 1997 between Khan and Libyan officials.

One Turkish company supplied aluminum castings, and another electrical cabinets and voltage regulators, the principal middleman, whose full name is Bukhary Seyed Abu Tahir, told the Malaysian police.

The Malaysian report sought to deflect much of the blame for the proliferation onto Europe by showing that the Malaysian companies involved may not have known the intended use or destination of the equipment, while many of the European companies and individuals involved did.

Many of those people were well known players in the uranium enrichment industry who had been investigated for sensitive exports before.

The report was based on police interrogation of Tahir, 44, has been in virtual police custody in Malaysia since American authorities alerted the Malaysian police last November of the network to supply Libya.

It was not just Libya. On one occasion, Tahir, acting for Khan, arranged for the shipment of two containers of centrifuge units to Iran from Pakistan, on a merchant ship owned by an Iranian company, according to the report. The equipment, which cost about $3 million, was paid for in cash that was brought in two briefcases to Dubai and kept in an apartment that was used as a guesthouse by Khan when he visited Dubai, the report says.

The 12-page report maps out the Libyan effort, showing that it drew on many of the same middlemen and suppliers that helped Khan outfit Pakistan’s nuclear weapons machine decades ago. The revelations have led at least four European countries to open investigations into the activities of citizens implicated in the trade.

The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Spain are all making inquiries related to the recently disclosed proliferation.

The report does not mention Khan by name, referring to him as the ‘‘Pakistani nuclear arms expert,’’ and ‘‘Pakistani scientist.’’ After saying that Tahir visited Pakistan, got contracts to sell air-conditioning equipment to Khan Research Laboratory and met ‘‘the Pakistani nuclear expert,’’ the report has its next two lines blacked out.

Tahir attended the Istanbul meeting in 1997 between Khan and Mohamad Matuq Mohamad, according to the report. The reference is possibly to Matuq Mohamad Matuq, Libya’s deputy prime minister and head of Libya’s nuclear program. During the meeting, the Libyans asked Khan to supply Libya with centrifuge units. Tahir met with Matuq at several other meetings between 1998 and 2002 in Casablanca and Dubai, the report says.

As a result of those meetings, the report says, ‘‘a certain amount of UF 6 (enriched uranium) was sent by air from Pakistan to Libya’’ in 2001. It was shipped on a Pakistani airliner, but Tahir could not remember the name. The report said a number of complete centrifuges were also flown to Libya direct from Pakistan over the course of the next year. It said the centrifuges were possibly P-1 models, based on a design stolen by Khan from the Netherlands in 1975.

Pakistan’s information secretary, Syed Anwar Mahmood, declined to comment on the allegations in the report. The Associated Press reported Thursday that the Kazakh intelligence agency is also investigating charges that a company linked to Tahir was dealing with highly enriched uranium, the AP reported on Thursday.

In addition to supplying equipment to Libya, the report detailed a major undertaking called Project Machine Shop 1001, an effort to build a manufacturing plant in Libya capable of making centrifuge components that could not be obtained from outside the country.

Tahir told the Malaysian police that the project was supervised by Peter Griffin, a British engineer who first began working with Khan in the early 1980s. He provided the plan for Machine Shop 1001 and a lathe, the report says. Machines for the workshop came from companies in Spain and Italy. Griffin also arranged for seven or eight Libyan technicians to go to Spain for training in operating some of the machines, according to the report.

In a separate interview, a Western investigator said that the Spanish company had supplied sophisticated tools that were needed for the repair and maintenance of nuclear centrifuges. Spain’s National Intelligence Center and Ministry of Economy are currently investigating the as yet unidentified companies.

Griffin also supplied an Italian-made furnace used in the refining of certain centrifuge components, according to the report.

In Dubai, Griffin set up a company called Gulf Technical Industries, which was partly owned by his son, Paul, according to the Malaysian report of Dubai corporate records. The company was one of several Dubai-based entities used by Khan to order sensitive components that were later consolidated for shipment to Libya, the report says. Neither of the Griffins could be reached for comment Friday, but in recent weeks, Paul Griffin has denied that he or his father had ever done anything illegal.

The report says a German named Gotthard Lerch also tried to buy pipes for the machine shop project from South Africa but failed to obtain them even though Libya had paid for them. Lerch is also well-known to proliferation experts. He is a former executive with the Hanau, Germany-based vacuum pump maker Leybold-Heraeus, and was charged in 1989 with stealing Urenco designs for an autoclave, a kind of furnace used to heat uranium hexafluoride gas before it passes through isotope enriching centrifuges.

Telephone calls to Lerch’s Swiss home Thursday were not answered, but he previously admitted to supplying Pakistan with valves, vacuum pumps, brazing furnaces, measuring instruments and a gas-purifying plant in the 1980s, according to press reports at the time. Much of the equipment was shipped through Switzerland to France and reportedly flown to Pakistan by way of Dubai. Lerch was eventually acquitted of any wrongdoing.

A spokesman for Germany’s general prosecutor’s office said Thursday that they were investigating the recent reports of proliferation involving German nationals ‘‘in all directions.’’

Raymond Bonner reported from Istanbul and Craig S. Smith from Paris.