Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Paper trail shows Malaysia ties

Pakistan's top nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan has admitted passing on nuclear secrets.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- A Sri Lankan accused of being the chief financial officer for an international nuclear black market sat on the board of a company owned by the Malaysian prime minister's only son, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The connection indicates that alleged senior members of the network established by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, were able to woo partners in the highest levels of Malaysian society.
In the Malaysian case, the partners said they had no idea deals were being made to fashion parts that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
The documents, obtained by AP via searches of publicly accessible files, reveal a paper trail through privately held and publicly listed companies that outlines ties between the prime minister's son, Kamaluddin Abdullah, and the Sri Lankan, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, as well as his Malaysian wife.
The documents show that the men were top executives at Kaspadu Sdn. Bhd. when Tahir negotiated a deal for a company linked to Kaspadu, Scomi Precision Engineering, to build components that Western intelligence agencies allege were for use in Libya's nuclear program.
U.S. President George W. Bush last week called Tahir the "chief financial officer and money launderer" of the black market network led by Khan, who has admitted selling nuclear technology and know-how to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has said Khan acted alone in selling atomic secrets to these countries, but many in Pakistan and outside have doubted this.
Kamaluddin's company, the Scomi Group, previously acknowledged that its subsidiary Scomi Precision Engineering fulfilled a contract for machine parts that was negotiated by Tahir.
Nonproliferation authorities say the parts were for centrifuges -- sophisticated machines that can be used to enrich uranium for weapons and other purposes -- but Scomi says it did not know what the parts were to be used for.
Rohaida Badaruddin, a Scomi spokeswoman, confirmed Tuesday that Tahir was a Kaspadu director until early last year, and said it was likely Kamaluddin encountered Tahir at business meetings.
Kamaluddin was "shocked and surprised" to learn late last year of Tahir's alleged role in the nuclear network and broke ties with the Sri Lankan -- including asking Tahir's wife, Nazimah Syed Majid, to sell her shares in Kaspadu, the spokeswoman said.
Kamaluddin has not spoken publicly about the matter and was not available for comment Tuesday. A security guard at the house listed on company documents as his residence told AP it was owned by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but that nobody now lives there.
The AP traced Nazimah, 35, to an apartment in one of Kuala Lumpur's most exclusive suburbs. She declined comment, except to say, "My husband is not here; he's away." She said she did not know where Tahir went.
Police say they have interviewed Tahir but he is not in custody because he has committed no crime in Malaysia.
Abdullah took office last October and was deputy prime minister at the time of the business dealings between his son and Tahir.
Tahir is believed to have started developing social and business ties in Malaysia in the mid-1990s, and by 1998 held a society wedding attended by Khan. Tahir's wife is the daughter of a former Malaysian diplomat, officials have said.
The revelations of deeper links between Tahir and Kamaluddin come as Malaysian officials complain that this mostly Muslim Southeast Asian country has been unfairly singled out by Washington for its role in the nuclear black market.
Bush, in his speech last week, alleged Tahir used a Dubai computer company as a front for Khan's network, and directed the Malaysian company to produce centrifuge parts based on Pakistani designs. Bush said Khan's network used front companies to "deceive legitimate firms into selling them tightly controlled materials."
Malaysia has welcomed comments by a senior U.S. official, who said during a visit to China on Monday that Bush doesn't hold Malaysia responsible.
"There was never any suggestion that the government of Malaysia was involved," said John Bolton, an undersecretary of state, adding that the Malaysian firm might not have known its equipment was for nuclear use.
Kaspadu is a privately held investment vehicle for Kamaluddin and a business partner that has a controlling stake in Scomi.
Scomi fully owns Scomi Precision Engineering, which delivered "14 semifinished components" to Dubai-based Gulf Technical Industries between December 2002 and August 2003, under the US$3.4 million Tahir contract.
The parts were seized in October in boxes marked with Scomi's name en route to Libya. Scomi says it understood the parts were for the oil and gas industry, and had no knowledge of the Libyan connection.
Scomi has previously identified Tahir as a businessman who approached its subsidiary about the contract, and said Kamaluddin had no knowledge of the deal because he has no official management role in Scomi.
But company documents show ties between Tahir, 44, and companies controlled by Kamaluddin, 36, were closer than previously acknowledged.
Kaspadu documents list Tahir as being appointed December 16, 2000, as a company director. Kamaluddin is listed as one of Kaspadu's four other directors and its "corporate executive."
Malaysian police say Tahir negotiated the Libya-linked contract around 2001. It was Scomi Precision Engineering's first order, and it built a factory to fill it.
Kaspadu records show Tahir resigned as a director February 24, 2003. No reasons were given and the Scomi spokeswoman said she didn't know why.
Scomi Precision Engineering paid Kaspadu 84,000 ringgit ($22,000) in management fees in 2002, when Tahir was a director.
Other records show that in October 2000, Nazimah, Tahir's wife, was one of only three shareholders in Kaspadu. The others are Kamaluddin and his business partner, Shah Hakim Shahzanim Zain, who is a director of Kaspadu and Scomi Precision Engineering, and is the Scomi Group's chief executive.
Documents show that Nazimah's stake in the company was sold to Kamaluddin and Hakim last month.
After an inquiry, Prime Minister Abdullah declared Scomi had been cleared of wrongdoing. Last week he said "there is no such thing as Malaysian involvement" in the network outlined by Bush.


Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"