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Orange County Man Extradited From Spain After 16 Years

Crime: The engineer fled after being charged with illegally exporting devices that can be used as nuclear triggers.

November 20, 2001|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Orange County engineer who fled the United States 16 years ago after being charged with illegally shipping nuclear triggering devices to Israel has been extradited from Spain, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

Richard Kelly Smyth, 72, appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and was ordered held pending a bail hearing next Monday.

Smyth, who smiled and waved frequently to his wife from behind a glass enclosure in the courtroom, was indicted in 1985 on charges of exporting 800 of the nuclear triggers, known as krytrons, to Heli Trading Corp. in Israel.

Heli Trading was owned at the time by Arnon Milchan, an Israeli-born arms trader who became a successful Hollywood film producer. His hits have included "Pretty Woman," "L.A. Confidential" and "Fight Club." Milchan was not charged with any crimes.

In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" last year, Milchan denied any involvement in the krytron deal, but said he had allowed the Israeli government to use his company as a conduit for trading with the United States.

Smyth was arrested in July in Malaga, Spain. His wife said they had been living there since leaving the United States in 1985.

"We never made any secret about our identities," Emilie Smyth said Monday. "Richard was a vice president of the American Club in Malaga, and we were registered to vote in local elections."

She said they covered living expenses with Social Security payments and occasional help from relatives in the United States. Life in the south of Spain was idyllic, she said, but all that came crashing down last summer after they filled out an application for an account with a Malaga bank.

When they returned to the bank two weeks later, she said, Spanish police were waiting to arrest Smyth on an Interpol warrant.

She said her husband suffered two strokes while being held in a Spanish jail.

Emilie Smyth declined to discuss why they had left the United States 16 years earlier.

"I can't talk about that," she said. "It's going to be part of the case."

In addition to the 30 criminal counts pending against Smyth from the original indictment, he could be indicted for jumping bail and fleeing the United States, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. David Vaughn.

Defense lawyer James Riddet did not comment.

Krytrons are glass bulbs about two inches long that have many applications, ranging from high-speed photocopying machines to nuclear weapons. Because of that, their sale overseas is strictly controlled.

Israel, which returned most of the krytrons after Smyth's indictment, contended that the krytrons were never intended for use in its nuclear weapons program.

Smyth, who operated an export and engineering business, Milco International Inc., in a Huntington Beach industrial park, held a top security clearance.

He served as a technical advisor to the Air Force and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and taught graduate seminars at USC's engineering school.

Following a two-year investigation by the U.S. Customs Service, he was indicted in May 1985, on 15 counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act and 15 counts of making false statements to the government.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on $100,000 bail but was declared a fugitive three months later when he failed show up for his trial.

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