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Malaysia Downplays Involvement in Nuclear Black Market - 2004-02-06

Malaysia is downplaying allegations that a company controlled by the prime minister's son has been involved in transferring parts for Libya's nuclear weapons program and is involved in the nuclear black market.

Malaysian officials responded to allegations made Thursday by U.S. Central Intelligence Director George Tenet.

Mr. Tenet said that Malaysian company Scomi Precision Engineering, or SCOPE, was part of a vast network selling black market nuclear technology to such nations as Libya, North Korea and Iran.

Friday, Malaysian officials said SCOPE is under investigation, but it was too soon to tell if the company has supplied centrifuge components for Libya's uranium-enrichment nuclear weapons program. They noted the components were generic and could have been used for a myriad of other non-nuclear purposes.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - whose son is the major shareholder in the Scomi group - has pledged the probe would be conducted without fear or favor. He said police are working with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the investigation. Malaysian specialist William Case from Australia's Griffiths University says he questions whether Malaysia has the technical capability to be a major player in the international nuclear black market. "Malaysia simply doesn't possess the technology to produce really sophisticated centrifuge equipment like this, there are mid-levels of technology in place to be sure, but most of it of course is in the hands of foreign direct investors," he said. "My understanding of these centrifuges is they're extremely sophisticated. There is no local technology in Malaysia that will be able to produce something like that." Malaysia's alleged links to an international nuclear syndicate were exposed after Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, confessed he sold nuclear information to North Korea, Libya, and Iran. CIA Director Tenet has said both U.S. and British intelligence penetrated and exposed Mr. Khan's covert nuclear smuggling network that stretched across three continents.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Mr. Khan Thursday after he confessed and begged for forgiveness on national television in Pakistan.