Skip to comments.Briton Key Suspect In Nuclear Ring
Posted on 02/11/2004 7:19:48 PM PST by blam
Briton key suspect in nuclear ring
Man accused of smuggling parts tells Guardian: 'I was framed'
Owen Bowcott, Ian Traynor in Zagreb, John Aglionby in Jakarta and Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Thursday February 12, 2004
The Guardian (UK)
A Middle East-based British businessman has emerged as a key suspect in a secret network supplying Libya, Iran and North Korea with equipment to build nuclear bombs. Speaking for the first time yesterday, Paul Griffin denied that his company played any part in shipping prohibited material from the Far East.
He told the Guardian: "We have been framed."
His comments came as diplomatic sources and nuclear experts around the world stepped up their warnings of a growing proliferation crisis as atomic technology and expertise is increasingly traded on the black market.
Regulators have warned of a dangerous illegal "supermarket" in atomic know-how, spanning five countries.
Last night President George Bush added his voice to the growing chorus of alarm. He talked of the threat of black market dealers motivated by "greed, or fanaticism, or both".
For the first time Mr Bush publicly accused Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, of being at the centre of a network supplying North Korea with the centrifuge technology that is needed to make highly enriched uranium for atomic bombs.
The names of individuals and companies supposedly involved in Dr Khan's clandestine network - including that of Mr Griffin - have been leaking slowly into the public domain. The US authorities have named a Dubai-based Sri Lankan businessman, BSA Tahir, as a key middle man in the nuclear proliferation network.
Mr Bush last night named Mr Tahir as Dr Khan's deputy and said he ran SMB computers, a business in Dubai. "Tahir used that computer company as a front for the proliferation activities of the AQ Khan network. Tahir ... was also its shipping agent, using his computer firm as cover for the movement of centrifuge parts to various clients."
The CIA director, George Tenet, last week named a Malaysian company, Scomi Precision Engineering, as the firm that manufactured 14 components for a nuclear centrifuge dispatched to Libya last year. The equipment was seized in a high-security operation in October when the container vessel carrying it, the German-owned BBC China, entered the Mediterranean. Intelligence agents persuaded the owners to divert the ship to the southern Italian port of Taranto, where the material was confiscated.
Pleading that it thought the components were destined for the oil or gas industry, Scomi in turn named British-owned and Dubai-based Gulf Technical Industries (GTI) as the company which placed the order.
GTI, which was established in 2000, is run by Mr Griffin and his father, Peter. Its registration form with the Dubai Chamber of Trade and Commerce describes it as trading in "pumps, engines, valves and spare parts". It is listed on another Middle East website as a steel trading company.
"The allegations are totally untrue," Mr Griffin told the Guardian from Dubai. "We trade in engineering products. The first I knew about the press release [from Scomi] was when I was telephoned about it at 7.15am on Tuesday.
"I was asked whether we had really bought $3.5m of equipment from Malaysia.
"It's total nonsense, rubbish. I'm trying to find out myself what [is supposed to have been going on]. I have approached the Malaysian consulate to find out how everything happened. I haven't bought anything from Malaysia at all.
"If I was going to buy high precision parts I would order them from Europe; you know what you are getting from there. I would notice if I had brought some precision-engineered parts. They are not something you go pick up at a supermarket."
Mr Griffin, 40, and originally from south Wales, said he had met Mr Tahir when GTI bought some computers from his company last year. GTI had also asked him to sort out a computer virus on his system. "That was it," Mr Griffin said.
Asked whether he knew Dr Khan, the metallurgist, Mr Griffin said that he had, coincidentally, met him at a wedding in Pakistan "about 18 years ago".
He added: "I went to a friend's wedding and he [Khan] was the local dignitary. I was introduced to him.
"I have never met him in Dubai or since then. I don't even know where he lives. I haven't had any [other] contact with him.
"If we were anything to do with [this smuggling], I would have thought British or US intelligence would have contacted me. The British embassy know me here. I haven't been contacted by the authorities here. If I was doing something dodgy, I would have been picked up."
The bill of lading with the German company, BBC Chartering and Logistic, which owned the BBC China, would show he had nothing to do with the centrifuge order, he said. "They have promised to send me the documentation. They told me they had never heard of us. It's all a mystery. The last time I saw Tahir was eight months ago. These allegations are all a load of bullshit." Mr Griffin, who has lived in Dubai on and off since 1986, said his father, Peter, had now retired to Paris. GTI was still tendering for work with the oil industry in the region.
GTI's registered office is in a low-rise building at the side of the eight-lane Sheikh Zayed Highway on the way to the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
On the ground floor, House of Cars sells four-wheel-drives to expatriates and Jebal Arafat Tailors caters to the Arab residents of the building.
Yesterday, the office smelled of paint and appeared to be in the process of being re-let. Mr Griffin lives in a single-storey villa in the smart Jumeirah area of the city, surrounded by palm trees. He told the Guardian his company had moved premises.
Malaysian security authorities said they did not know the whereabouts of Mr Tahir, who allegedly ordered the centrifuge parts from Scomi Precision Engineering, which is controlled by the son of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. A centrifuge is used to concentrate, or enrich, radioactive material. A police spokesman said investigators were keen to speak to him. "He is a crucial part of our ongoing investigation so we are keen to talk to him but we have yet to locate him," the spokesman said.
Mr Bush said that Mr Tahir, who has a Malaysian wife, "is in Malaysia, where authorities are investigating his activities".
Western diplomatic sources in Kuala Lumpur say they would like to see the investigation intensified but in reality it is losing momentum because Scomi has been cleared of any wrongdoing by Malaysian police. A police spokesman said: "Our investigation is still ongoing and we want to get to the bottom of the matter."
The Malaysian police chief, Mohd Bakri Omar, on Sunday absolved Scomi of any participation in the nuclear weapons trade. "So far, no wrongdoing has been committed," he said.
Scomi is continuing its operations. It insists it believed it was making equipment for the oil and gas industry.
A Scomi factory manager, Che Lokman Che Omar, told reporters during a tour of the site last week that the case was being blown out of proportion.
"It is not difficult to make," he said. "It could be one of thousands of parts used by the oil and gas industry. In fact, we have made more complex and difficult parts before." In its latest statement Scomi said it was making "generic items", not "sensitive parts" and that it "never knowingly manufactured" nuclear weapons parts.
The Foreign Office declined to comment about the allegations against GTI or Mr Griffin.
Investigators at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency probing nuclear trafficking networks in at least a dozen countries believe Dubai is the centre for traders and middlemen running the black market.
The Americans hailed the seizure of the BBC China as a triumph for US intelligence that helped to persuade Colonel Muammar Gadafy of Libya to renounce his weapons of mass destruction pro grammes under the deal announced in December.
Other informed sources are convinced that, in fact, the boat was seized after the Libyans informed the CIA about it.
BBC Chartering and Logistic GmbH, the shipping company based at Leer in northern Germany which owns the BBC China, said: "This was a regular container transport from Dubai to Libya. We were surprised by the visits from the secret service and the [German] economics ministry. We're not involved at all in this story."
Rolf Briese, the company's managing director, said: "This is not so simple. We've made a declaration to the economic ministry and we have an agreement not to give any more information about it."
Investigation sources say the shipping company has been cleared of any suspicion in the incident and the BBC China is plying its business as usual.
While the IAEA investigators were denied access to the material on the BBC China by the Americans, the agency's inspectors found similar equipment in Libya during a visit in December.
According to diplomats in Vienna, the equipment bore stickers bearing the name KRL, referring to Khan Research Laboratories, the facility south of Islamabad at the heart of the Pakistani bomb project and named after Dr Khan.
The stickers found on the equipment in Libya explain why Dr Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA head, has taken to describing the clandestine nuclear trade as a "supermarket."
The disclosure of Dr Khan's smuggling network has been punctuated by heated claims and counter-claims about whether US and western intelligence agencies penetrated the hidden trade or completely missed its significance.
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