Nuclear black market suspect list grows

The UN nuclear watchdog's list of Europeans who may have been suppliers to a global atomic black market is getting longer by the day, diplomats have said.

    Al-Baradei says Dubai is a nuclear supermarket

    A Western diplomat said on Monday that a

     company in Dubai close to the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme "appears

    to have been the

    main player in the nuclear black market and handled the orders,

    procurement and shipping".

    Diplomats added the Dubai-based network, which UN

    International Atomic Energy Agency chief Muhammad a

    l-Baradei has described as a supermarket for countries seeking

    nuclear weapons, shopped for many of its supplies in Europe.

    The IAEA has already questioned at least two former

    employees of a German company as part of its investigation into

    how Iran skirted sanctions to build a uranium-enrichment gas

    centrifuge programme, the diplomats said.

    Enrichment is the purification of uranium for use as fuel in

    nuclear power plants or, when highly-enriched, in bombs.

    Uranium purification

    Experts

    say getting bomb-grade material is the biggest hurdle countries

    with nuclear weapons ambitions must overcome.

    "The circle of European countries named (as being involved in the global nuclear black market) is going to get

    wider. There are a number of

    Germans whose names are being mentioned."

    Western diplomat

    The UN probe identified people or firms from Germany, the

    Netherlands, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, South Africa,

    Japan, Dubai, Malaysia, the United States, Spain, Russia, China

    and Pakistan.

    "The circle of European countries named is going to get

    wider," predicted one Western diplomat. "There are a number of

    Germans whose names are being mentioned."

    However, he said there were so many branches of the black

    market that it was difficult to say who was doing what.

    "It's clear that there was a person or persons masterminding

    the whole thing," the diplomat said. "It was very well organised

    and I don't think most suppliers knew who the end users were."

    Miiddlemen

    The black market's key middleman appears to have been a Sri

    Lankan businessman in Dubai.

    However, the IAEA is also looking

    at four Germans who might have helped Iran acquire enrichment

    technology that could be used in an arms programme.

    At least two of the people the IAEA has questioned are

    former senior employees of the German firm Leybold Heraeus, a

    leading maker of vacuum technology.

    Only one of the Germans on the IAEA list is now living in

    Germany.

    One resides in the Netherlands, another is in

    Switzerland and the fourth is dead.

    One diplomat called the man

    in Switzerland Germany's "most significant" suspect.

    German company

    One German on the list is former Leybold sales manager Otto

    Heilingbrunner, who said

    he was surprised at being named a

    suspected middleman in the IAEA investigation.

    Heilingbrunner, now retired and in poor health, said he was

    in Iran in the 1980s to help arrange the sale of equipment used

    to manufacture aircraft parts. He denied being a middleman.

    In the 1980s, Heilingbrunner and fellow Leybold executive

    Gotthard Lerch, now living in Switzerland and on the IAEA list,

    were probed by German authorities, German sources said.

    Proceedings halted in 1990 for lack of evidence.

    Leybold officials had no immediate comment when contacted.

    Without giving details, Heilingbrunner also said that while

    at Leybold he travelled to Dubai on business.

    Khan admitted leaking Pakistani
    nuclear secrets

    He also visited a

    number of countries known or widely suspected to be interested

    in nuclear weapons - Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Libya.

    Leaked secrets

    The news comes after Abd al-Qadir Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, publicly confessed last week to leaking nuclear secrets.

    President Pervez Musharraf swiftly pardoned Khan, who remains a national hero in the country.

    Libya admitted in December it had sought nuclear, chemical

    and biological weapons and agreed to let experts from the United

    Nations, the United States and Britain disarm it.

    Meanwhile, the United States believes North Korea may have atomic

    weapons already.

    And Washington says Iran's enrichment programme

    is a front

    for developing an atom bomb. Iran rejects the accusation.

    SOURCE: Reuters


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Assad to Putin: Thank you for 'saving our country'

    Assad to Putin: Thank you for 'saving our country'

    Russian and Syrian presidents meet to discuss strategy against 'terrorism' and political settlement options.

    Is Saudi Arabia becoming a danger to the region?

    Is Saudi Arabia becoming a danger to the region?

    We talk to US Congressman Ro Khanna about power politics and debate Mohammed bin Salman's new strategy for the Kingdom.

    Gender violence in India: 'Daughters are not a burden'

    Gender violence in India: 'Daughters are not a burden'

    With female foeticide still widespread, one woman tells her story of being mutilated for giving birth to her daughters.