Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rejected allegations by the opposition Tuesday that a police investigation into the trafficking of nuclear parts to Libya had been slanted to protect his son, who controls the company involved.
Abdullah also said that the United States was unlikely to impose sanctions against Malaysia over the trafficking, which allegedly was part of a clandestine effort by the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan to sell nuclear weapons capability to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
"I don't think the United States will go to the extent of imposing sanctions because of one small incident," Abdullah told reporters.
Abdullah said Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, the Sri Lankan who brokered the parts deal with the company controlled by Abdullah's son, Kamaluddin, would be available to U.S. investigators if they want to question him.
"Mr. Tahir is a free man," Abdullah said. "He is not detained. What he did was entirely a business deal."
The scandal has erupted as Abdullah prepares in the next few weeks to call general elections. Officials have said that the Malaysian company's role in manufacturing nuclear components for Libya should not be an electoral issue, but opposition parties show signs of making it one.
Two opposition parties have called for a parliamentary inquiry, an unlikely possibility given the overwhelming majority Abdullah's coalition enjoys. Separately, the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party is already featuring the affair in its campaign rallies.
Kamaruddin Jaafar, a senior Islamic Party official, said the government was "shielding" Abdullah's son and Tahir, labeled by President George W. Bush as the chief financial officer of Khan's network.
"This is an issue that puts a serious dent on Abdullah's 'Mr. Clean' image," Kamaruddin said. "He has not come clean on his son's involvement with Tahir."
A report released by the police last Friday declared that Scomi, an oil-and-gas company, and its subsidiary Scope were "misled" into making 25,000 parts for centrifuges to enrich uranium, a key step in the weapons-making process.
Under the contract brokered by Tahir, the company thought the parts were for the oil-and-gas industry in Dubai, the report said.
Tahir was a partner with Kamaluddin, the prime minister's only son, in an investment company, Kaspadu, about the time the deal was struck. Kaspadu is the majority owner of Scomi.
Abdullah said he had not spoken with his son about the case in the three months since U.S. and British intelligence asked Malaysia to investigate Scope, after a ship with Libyan-bound parts was seized in the Mediterranean.
"When the matter was brought to my attention, I realized that it affects the business in which my son has substantial investments, and I told the police that they have to make sure it is thoroughly investigated without fear or favor," Abdullah said.
"I had no hand in how the investigation was carried out," Abdullah said. "As far as the company is concerned, I believe that transparency is their strongest defense. They are an innocent party."
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"