VIENNA, Austria – The hunt for middlemen who worked with the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program to supply rogue regimes with weapons technology has widened to Japan and Africa, diplomats said Thursday.
Suspects in Germany and two other European countries are also being investigated in the growing probe of the clandestine black market apparently headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan, they said.
Also, Malaysia announced Thursday it would investigate a company controlled by the prime minister’s son for its alleged role in supplying components to Libya’s nuclear program. The company also has been linked to the international nuclear black market tied to Pakistan.
The chief U.N. nuclear inspector said Thursday that Khan was an “important part” of the clandestine supply chain, but he said long and painstaking investigations into who sold what and to whom lay ahead.
“Dr. Khan was not working alone,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “There were items that were manufactured in other countries, items that were reassembled in different countries.
“Dr. Khan was the tip of an iceberg for us, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
ElBaradei said middlemen in five countries supplied nuclear technology and expertise to Iran – which denies running a nuclear weapons program – and to Libya, which has owned up to having weapons of mass destruction or programs to make them. Pakistani officials have said Khan’s network had supplied North Korea, too, but ElBaradei said he couldn’t confirm that.
The five countries include Germany and Japan as well as two countries in Europe and one in Africa that the diplomats would not name.
In Washington, CIA Director George Tenet confirmed that Khan was at the center of the nuclear black market. He said U.S. and British intelligence had been tracking its movements for years.
“His network was shaving years off the nuclear weapons development timelines of several states, including Libya,” Tenet said in a speech, adding that now “Khan and his network have been dealt a crushing blow.”
Pakistan – and Khan – became the focus of international investigation on the basis of information Libya and Iran gave the IAEA about where they covertly bought nuclear technology that can be used to make weapons.
In Islamabad, President Pervez Musharraf said the IAEA was welcome to come and discuss the proliferation issue. “We are open and we will tell them everything,” Musharraf said.
Still, Musharraf said Pakistan wouldn’t submit to any U.N. supervision of its weapons program, and that no documents would be handed over to the IAEA. He also ruled out an independent investigation of the military’s role in spreading nuclear technology.
Pakistan, which did not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is not obliged to submit its nuclear weapons activity to outside scrutiny.
Musharraf also pardoned Khan, heading off any trial that could have uncovered revelations about government and military involvement.
In the nuclear procurement chain headed by Khan, hundreds of millions of dollars are thought to have changed hands over the past 15 years.
Among items bought by Libya were engineer’s drawings of a nuclear weapon, now under IAEA seal in the United States.
One of the diplomats said that drawing appeared to be of Chinese design but cautioned against assuming it came directly from China.
“There are no fingerprints on the drawings which lead you to any specific country,” he said.
China is widely assumed to have been Pakistan’s key supplier of much of the clandestine nuclear technology that Khan used to publicly establish Pakistan as a nuclear power in 1998.
The revelations that nuclear know-how, and turnkey level equipment needed to enrich uranium to weapons grade was traded over the past two decades have escalated fears of similar clandestine programs elsewhere.
ElBaradei said he was not aware of covert weapons development in countries other than Libya, Iran and North Korea. But one diplomat said the success of the network – as measured by the nuclear weapons blueprint and high-tech enrichment equipment sold to Libya – were cause for alarm.
“Libya for the most part tried to buy its way into the nuclear club,” he said. “It was on its way,” to getting everything, he added.
In Malaysia, the company under investigation said it didn’t know that some centrifuge components it made were headed for Libya.
The company, Scomi Precision Engineering, or SCOPE, accepted a contract from a Dubai-based company after negotiating with a middleman, identified as a Sri Lankan, B.S.A. Tahir, police said.
SCOPE’s parent company, the Scomi group, confirmed it made “14 semifinished components” for Gulf Technical Industries and shipped them in four consignments between December 2002 and August 2003, under a deal negotiated by Tahir and worth $3.4 million.
U.S. and British intelligence said the deal between SCOPE and Tahir involved components that could be used for uranium enrichment.
Kamaluddin Abdullah, 35, the only son of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is Scomi’s largest shareholder, although he has no management role. He could not be reached for comment.