Skip to comments.Ex-Leader Says Malaysia Halted Shipment
Posted on 03/18/2004 7:49:45 AM PST by Bayou City
Mar 18, 8:41 AM EST
Ex-Leader Says Malaysia Halted Shipment
By JASBANT SINGH
Associated Press Writer
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) -- The United States asked Malaysia to halt a shipment of suspected nuclear parts in the 1990s, years before a local company was linked to a network that supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with weapons-making technology, Malaysia's former leader said Thursday.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told The Associated Press in an interview that Malaysia stopped one shipment years ago of stainless steel pipes at Washington's request.
"We didn't know where they were headed," Mahathir told The AP. "They didn't say if it was for centrifuges. There were some reports submitted to me, saying that there was this American objection. They said it was meant for some nuclear thing."
Mahathir retired as prime minister Oct. 31 after 22 years in power that saw Malaysia develop as a high-tech manufacturing center. The nuclear parts incident is believed to have occurred in the early 1990s.
A U.S. official posted in this Southeast Asian nation at the time recalled that Washington suspected a Malaysian factory of making parts that could be used for nuclear purposes and were possibly bound for Pakistan. Malaysia contended that the parts had other possible applications.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalled that a ship was searched but no parts were found. He was unclear on details given the many years that have lapsed.
Last October, a shipment of 25,000 Malaysian-made centrifuge parts for enriching uranium to make nuclear arms was seized in the Mediterranean en route to Libya, uncovering a secret network led by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Malaysian police have cleared the company that made the components, Scomi Precision Engineering, of knowing that they were bound for Libya or for nuclear use. The company is controlled by the son of current Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The company was tricked into thinking that the components were intended for the oil-and-gas industry in Dubai, police said, concluding that it could not be held responsible for any wrongdoing.
"During my time, there were also some orders for similar pipes," Mahathir told The AP. "It was not with Scomi. I think it was some other company. The United States objected to this, so the deal was aborted."
The seizure last October blew the lid off the smuggling network headed by Khan and triggered investigations in the United States, Europe and Asia to track down the ring's activities.
The deal to make the Libyan-bound parts in Malaysia was brokered by a Sri Lankan businessman, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, whom President Bush has labeled the Khan network's "chief financial officer."
Tahir, who has business interests in Dubai, moved to Malaysia in the mid-1990s and began establishing contacts among the country's elite. Khan attended his marriage to a Malaysian woman.
Tahir served on the board of directors of an investment company, Kaspadu, along with the current prime minister's son, Kamaluddin Abdullah, the majority shareholder. Kaspadu holds the chief stake in Scomi, an oil and gas company. Scomi Precision Engineering is a subsidiary.
Tahir brokered the deal to make the parts for Libya, but police say he has broken no local laws and he remains free.
Tahir told Malaysian police that he had been acquainted with Khan since the 1980s and helped smuggle nuclear materials to Iran and Libya. The only deal involving Malaysia was Scomi's manufacture of parts for Libya between 2001 and 2003, the police report says.
The United States sent a top-level anti-proliferation envoy, John Wolf, to Malaysia three weeks ago to urge Abdullah and other officials to tighten export controls. Malaysian authorities made no firm commitment to Wolf, who was ambassador to Malaysia in the early 1990s.
Washington has been keen to improve relations with Malaysia, an important Southeast Asian ally in the war against terrorism, following often prickly relations during the Mahathir years.
"The U.S. has admitted that this is not a deliberate attempt by Malaysia to spread nuclear weapons to other countries," Mahathir said. "I don't think the people who ordered these things told Scomi, 'We are going to build a nuclear bomb. Can you please supply us with centrifuges?'"
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.