ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s information minister acknowledged on Thursday that a rogue scientist at the heart of an international nuclear black market investigation gave centrifuges to Iran, but insisted the government had nothing to do with the transfer.
It was the first time the Pakistani government has admitted that Abdul Qadeer Khan actually gave material to Iran, though they have said in the past that his criminal group sold technology and blueprints to several countries.
“Dr. Abdul Qadeer gave some centrifuges to Iran,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “He helped Iran in his personal capacity, and the Pakistan government had nothing to do with it.”
Ahmed originally made the comments at a seminar in Islamabad organized by a local newspaper group, in which he stuck by Pakistan’s insistence that despite his crimes, Khan would never be handed over to a third country for prosecution.
Ahmed told AP that Islamabad is fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog.
Khan, considered the father of Pakistan’s own nuclear program, confessed last year that he sold nuclear technology to Iran — Pakistan’s southwestern neighbor — as well as North Korea and Libya. The investigation into his group’s activities has widened to include several other countries as well.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pardoned the disgraced scientist and allowed him to keep the riches he allegedly earned from the trade. However, Khan remains restricted to his home in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
The government has steadfastly denied any official involvement in the proliferation, despite reports Khan flew to North Korea on a government plane.
On Sunday, former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani admitted his country secretly dipped into the black market to buy material, saying it was necessary because of U.S. sanctions and European restrictions that denied Iran access to advanced civilian nuclear technology.
Since last year Iran has publicly acknowledged that it once bought nuclear equipment from middlemen in south Asia, lending credence to reports that Khan was one of the suppliers.