KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - A Malaysian company controlled by the prime minister's son is being investigated for possibly supplying machine parts bound for Libya's nuclear weapons programs, the national police chief said.
Inspector General of Police Mohamed Bakri Omar said Scomi Precision Engineering Sdn. Bhd., known as SCOPE, built centrifuge components that international intelligence agencies say were headed for Libya late last year.
The revelations are part of widening investigations into the world's nuclear black market amid charges that Libya, Iran and North Korea have used shadowy suppliers to get knowledge and technology from Pakistan and other countries.
Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium for a variety of purposes, including weapons production.
SCOPE is a tool-making subsidiary of Scomi Group Bhd., a mid-sized oil and gas company controlled by Kamaluddin Abdullah, the son of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Scomi said it did not know what the parts were intended for.
Malaysian Special Branch police began the investigation after the CIA and Britain's MI6 intelligence agency informed them in November that boxes of machine parts bearing SCOPE's name were found in five containers seized in a ship off Italy in October headed for Libya, Mohamed Bakri said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Thursday.
He said the foreign intelligence services had informed Malaysian authorities that a Sri Lankan identified as B.S.A. Tahir had acted as middleman in the centrifuge deal.
"Tahir and SCOPE are cooperating fully with the police in the investigations," Mohamed Bakri said, adding that Tahir was not being detained.
In a separate statement, Scomi said it had been contracted by Tahir to make "14 semi-finished components" for a Dubai-based company, Gulf Technical Industries. The company said Gulf Technical never identified its intended use of the components.
The deal was worth $3.4 million and comprised four consignments that were shipped between December 2002 and August 2003, the company said.
Mohamed Bakri said "Tahir had offered a contract to SCOPE to prepare the components which was said to be a legitimate transaction."
SCOPE accepted the offer and built a factory outside Kuala Lumpur to fill the Dubai order. The Scomi statement did not explain why a new factory was required to fill such a small order.
Malaysia, a fast-developing, mostly Muslim country in Southeast Asia, is a signatory to international nuclear weapons nonproliferation treaties. It has a small government-backed program to develop nuclear technology for medical and industrial uses.
Top U.S. nonproliferation official John R. Bolton visited Malaysia Jan. 12 for talks with Malaysian officials.
Najib Razak, Malaysia's deputy prime minister and defense minister, said the issue of Malaysian-made centrifuges was not raised, and denied that Malaysia might be a source of equipment for nuclear weapons programs.
Stressing that the Malaysian-made equipment was parts only, Mohamed Bakri said "investigations carried out so far indicate that no company in Malaysia is capable of producing a complete centrifuge unit because it requires high technology and extensive expertise in the field of nuclear weapons."
The parts seized in the Libya shipment could also be used in petrochemical, water treatment and health applications such as separating proteins for molecular biology, he said.
Mohamed Bakri said that a "detailed investigation is continuing" in cooperation with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and pledged that it would be transparent.
In Pakistan, government and intelligence officials indicated that Malaysia's involvement may be wider than the single shipment addressed in Mohamed Bakri's statement.
Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program who confessed Wednesday to masterminding proliferation, occasionally ordered "disused equipment" to be sent to Malaysia for reconditioning before it was eventually shipped to Iran, Libya and North Korea, Pakistani officials told AP on condition of anonymity.
The Malaysian involvement was believed to be restricted to the reconditioning at unspecified factories, the officials said.
The Pakistani officials said that they had "no information" whether Malaysia had plans to become a nuclear power. The two countries have had a defense agreement since 1997.
U.S. officials have indicated that the seized Libyan-bound components had other uses besides nuclear applications.
But a Vienna-based diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that much of what Malaysia manufactured was probably geared for nuclear enrichment and that "the government should have known" about the components.
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