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Indictment Points to Arms Danger

A Pakistani charged with exporting nuclear weapons components is described as potentially serious threat to American security.

April 09, 2005|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A Pakistani military supplier has been indicted in an investigation into a network now suspected of supplying both Pakistan and India with outlawed components for their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile systems, federal authorities disclosed Friday.

Humayun A. Khan, 47, of Islamabad was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday, based in part on information provided by a former business associate who has been secretly cooperating with authorities for more than a year.

The Justice Department ordered Khan's indictment unsealed Friday, along with the plea agreement signed in November by the associate, Asher Karni of South Africa.

Documents in both cases portray a network that has operated longer and more extensively than federal authorities had previously acknowledged.

Khan is accused of illegally exporting several shipments of specialized equipment from the United States that can be used to test, develop and detonate nuclear weapons.

He did so, the court documents contend, by conspiring with Karni to route the shipments through South Africa to avoid raising suspicion.

Khan could not be reached for comment, but he said in a recent telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times that he was innocent of wrongdoing. He acknowledged supplying military parts to Pakistan but said he had never procured items for its nuclear or missile programs in violation of U.S. law.

Kenneth L. Wainstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, was one of several top federal authorities who described the case as a potentially serious threat to American security.

"The United States government will spare no effort to disrupt the illegal trade in technology with nuclear applications," Wainstein said. "As demonstrated by the multi-agency investigative effort in this case, all of our law enforcement components stand ready to take action against those nuclear black-marketeers who would jeopardize global security in pursuit of personal profit."

Michael J. Garcia, assistant Homeland Security secretary for immigration and customs enforcement, said the case underscored how "the proliferation of nuclear components is not only a homeland security threat but a global threat."

"This case in particular raised serious concerns," said Garcia, a former federal counter-terrorism prosecutor. "The technology involved, the destination of these goods, and the clear efforts to disguise the trail of the shipments raised the stakes even higher."

The Times reported in March that authorities traced at least one shipment of specialized oscilloscopes that Khan had ordered from Karni in 2003 to a company directly involved in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Federal agents have been unable so far to interview Khan, track down some missing items and pursue other leads.

If convicted, Khan faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.

The documents also allege that a series of transactions occurred between Karni and several purchasers of electronic components who are based in India.

Karni's dealings with India appear to date to 2001 or earlier and involve a web of companies in the United States, Israel and South Africa, the court documents show.

And, as was the case with Khan in Pakistan, authorities seized e-mails in which Karni and associates in India appeared to discuss how to circumvent U.S. nonproliferation and export-control laws.

In one case, Karni hid from a wary U.S. manufacturer of specialty missile components that the ultimate purchaser was the Vikram Sarrabhai Space Center, which was on a U.S. embargo list. The court documents quote him as telling an intermediary, "I did not tell them, of course, [where] it's going."

One federal law enforcement official said the case was continuing and that investigators were "looking at dozens of suspects all over the world."

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