By PATRICK McDOWELL, Associated Press Writer
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rejected opposition allegations Tuesday that a police investigation into the trafficking of nuclear parts to Libya had been whitewashed to protect his son, who owns the company involved.
Abdullah also said that Washington was unlikely to impose sanctions against this Southeast Asian nation over the trafficking, which was part of the clandestine effort by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan to sell Libya, Iran and North Korea (news - web sites) nuclear weapons capability.
"I don't think the United States will go to the extent of imposing sanctions because of one small incident," Abdullah said.
Abdullah said that Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, the Sri Lankan who brokered the parts deal with the company owned by Abdullah's son, Kamaluddin, would be available to U.S. investigators if they want to question him.
"Mr. Tahir is a free man," the prime minister said. "He is not detained. What he did was entirely a business deal."
Two opposition parties have called for a parliamentary inquiry into the sale of the nuclear components, an unlikely possibility since Abdullah's coalition has an overwhelming majority.
In the meantime, the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party is calling attention to the affair at campaign rallies.
Kamaruddin Jaafar, a senior fundamentalist party official, said the government was shielding Abdullah's son and Tahir, who President Bush said was the chief financial officer of Khan's network.
"This is an issue that puts a serious dent on Abdullah's `Mr. Clean' image," Kamaruddin said. "He has not come clean on his son's involvement with Tahir."
A report released by police Friday declared that oil-and-gas company Scomi and its subsidiary SCOPE were "misled" into making 25,000 parts for centrifuges to enrich uranium, a key step in the weapons-making process.
Under the contract brokered by Tahir, the company thought the parts were for the oil-and-gas industry in Dubai, the report said.
Tahir was a partner with Kamaluddin, the premier's only son, in an investment company, Kaspadu, about the time the deal was struck. Kaspadu is the majority owner of Scomi.
Abdullah said that he had not spoken with his son about the case in the three months since U.S. and British intelligence asked Malaysia to investigate SCOPE, after a ship with Libyan-bound parts was seized in the Mediterranean.
"When the matter was brought to my attention, I realized that it affects the business in which my son has substantial investments, and I told the police that they have to make sure it is thoroughly investigated without fear or favor," Abdullah said.
"I had no hand in how the investigation was carried out," Abdullah said. "As far as the company is concerned, I believe that transparency is their strongest defense. They are an innocent party."
Tuesday, February 24, 2004 Posted: 1028 GMT ( 6:28 PM HKT)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- A tape recording attributed to Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, criticized France's decision to ban Islamic headscarves in schools, and described it as "part of the West's campaign of hatred against Islam."
"The decision of the French president to issue a law to prevent Muslim girls from covering their heads in schools is another example of the Crusader and envy that the Westerners have against Muslims," said the voice in the audiotape broadcast Tuesday on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite TV channel.
"Banning the headscarves in France is in line with burning villages with its inhabitants in Afghanistan, bringing houses down on the heads of sleeping Palestinians, with killing children in Iraq and robbing their oil using false pretexts ... (and) torturing [Muslims] in the cells of Guantanamo," the tape said.
Al-Arabiya would not disclose how it acquired the tape from al Qaeda's No. 2 man.
Sources at the station said the tape -- received a few minutes before it was aired -- was not played in its entirety.
The last tape believed to have come from the Egyptian-born doctor was released in December. In it, he warned that his fighters are chasing Americans in their homeland.
-- CNN.com Arabic's Caroline Faraj contributed to this story.