Suspected Swiss nuclear smugglers could faces charges

Thursday, December 23, 2010

VIENNA/BERNE - A Swiss judge called Thursday for the indictment of three engineers, all from one family, for their alleged role in a black market nuclear trafficking ring which aided Libya and Iran.

The three, according to the judge’s report, were involved in the smuggling business of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, whose rogue operations were closed in late 2003 largely due to efforts by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other Western agencies.

Following a two-year investigation, Federal Magistrate Andreas Mueller concluded that Friedrich Tinner and his sons Urs and Marco should be charged for trafficking goods for the development of nuclear weapons programmes.

The Tinners owned a high-tech company which is believed to have helped move centrifuge parts for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s planned nuclear facility, plans for which have since been cancelled.

Khan, considered the “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”, allegedly offered help to, or actually aided, Iran, Libya and North Korea with their uranium enrichment programmes.

The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is not obliged to follow Mueller’s recommendation. Trafficking in war materials carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The OAG declined to comment on its intentions, saying in an emailed statement it was reviewing Mueller’s 174-page report, which the judge only completed this week, and that it would soon make public its position.

The activities of Khan and his collaborators in numerous countries fully came to light in 2004, but few of the suspects have been indicted or judged in court. Khan himself was held under house arrest for some years though he is now a free man but under Pakistani government surveillance.

Urs Tinner has said he helped uncover the network by working for the CIA as an informer.

Mueller noted that his access to information was limited and complained that some authorities did not cooperate with his investigation.

The Swiss government destroyed key files related to the case in 2008, saying holding them was dangerous as they contained information on constructing nuclear weapons.

However, the same documents re-emerged a year later, sparking a legal battle between different authorities in Switzerland that has yet to be concluded, amid allegations of political meddling and foreign interference.

Mueller noted that, even if a Tinner was working with the CIA to help uncover Libyan plans in 2003, the family should have known from 1998, when Pakistan conducted its nuclear bomb test, that Khan was involved in illegal activity.

His recommendations for indictment therefore focused on the period prior to 2003. Also, access to information since that year is limited.

The CIA reportedly wanted to bury any case against the Tinners in order to protect the agency’s operations regarding the Khan network.

Libya has dismantled its nascent weapons programme, while Tehran claims it never used certain technical documents supplied by Khan which have weapons applications.

Western powers suspect Iran is developing weapons, but officials in the Islamic republic say the nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.

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