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South Africa Reports Critical Stage in Nuclear Black Market Probe - 2004-09-15

South Africa has told the International Atomic Energy Agency it has carried out raids to secure nuclear equipment and documents that authorities believe were part of a global black market, selling weapons designs to countries like Libya.

The South African government began investigating the illicit smuggling network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Quadeer Khan last year with the help of information provided by Libya.

Abdul Minty represents South Africa on the IAEA board of governors and also chairs the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

He told reporters that as many as 30 countries, many European, could have been involved in the network under investigation for supplying Libya, Iran, and North Korea with nuclear technology.

"The allegations that are being investigated by our authorities relate to the import and export of a controlled-flow forming lathe as well as the production and possession of certain components associated with a centrifuge enrichment plant without the necessary authorization," he explained. "It is alleged that these activities were intended to assist in the now abandoned nuclear weapons program of the Libyan government."

Mr. Minty said police raids discovered 11 shipping containers of components associated with a centrifuge uranium-enrichment plant as well as instrumentation and documents. The equipment was seized and placed under IAEA seals.

"The investigation has reached a sensitive stage. I should say now that the matter is extremely sensitive and because we are turning at critical points of the investigation and at the same time we have court cases," he said.

Mr. Minty said two men, Daniel Geiges and South African-German citizen Gerhard Wisser, face charges for illegally importing, exporting, and possessing and producing controlled items in activities going back three or four years. Both men were connected with Krisch Engineering and Tradefin Engineering, companies raided by the South African police where illegal nuclear-related equipment was found.

Mr. Minty said the investigation has yet to establish a link with South Africa's former nuclear weapons program developed under the apartheid regime.

"But you should remember that South Africa, up to 1994, had an entire business and commercial community that was subject to sanctions and virtually every enterprise would be involved in sanctions-busting," he said.

Mr. Minty would not comment on possible links between the Khan network in South Africa and Iran's secret nuclear program.

The IAEA board is debating what to do about Iran's nuclear program, suspected by Washington of being a front for nuclear weapons. Mr. Minty said he supported in principle the right of countries to enrich uranium, but thought suspension of this activity by Tehran would be a useful step to build confidence.