Skip to comments.Germany investigates illegal aluminum deal (with North-Korea or China)
Posted on 04/29/2003 12:53:20 PM PDT by knighthawk
GERMAN prosecutors are questioning the head of a company suspected of trying to export aluminum tubes to North Korea that could be used for making nuclear arms, the Stuttgart prosecutors' office said.
The company shipped tubes listing China as the destination without a permit from Germany's Bafa Export Agency, prosecutors' spokesman Eckhard Maak said. The deal was arranged by a North Korean middleman, arousing the suspicion that the real destination was North Korea, he said.
"It's a hypothesis right now that North Korea was the final destination," Maak said in an interview. Whether the purchaser was North Korean or Chinese, "the company acted without the permission of the authorities," he said.
The tubes are a vital component for making centrifuges to enrich uranium for use in power plants or nuclear bombs, Der Spiegel magazine reported in yesterday's edition. Maak said he couldn't identify the company or its chief executive; Spiegel named the company as Optronic GmbH.
The chief executive who's being questioned was detained earlier this month, Maak said. Investigators raided company premises and the executive's home, he said.
The tubes, weighing 22 tons, were already on their way to China when the freighter carrying them was stopped before its passage through the Suez Canal by French authorities acting on Germany's behalf, Spiegel said.
The ship returned to its port of departure in Hamburg over the weekend and its cargo will be examined, Maak said.
The company asked the export agency whether it needed approval for the exports, and was told that a permit was required, Holger Beutel, a Bafa spokesman, said.
"We told the company that it would need permission for exporting the goods but never received an application," he said.
Optronic's chief executive says another company exported the tubes, Optronic's Frankfurt lawyer, Egon Geis, said in an interview.
Note that the "North Korean middleman" is an official with the IAEA.