Three Swiss engineers,a father and his two sons,have been charged with breaking arms export laws by aiding a Pakistani-led nuclear smuggling ring that supplied Libya’s atomic weapons program,prosecutors said Tuesday. The men’s formal indictment follows almost a decade of politically charged investigation that lifted the veil on one of the most successful international intelligence operations to stop nuclear proliferation to rogue states.
Urs Tinner,46,his brother Marco,43,and their father Friedrich,74,are suspected of providing technology and know-how to the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan,the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program,the federal prosecutors office in Bern said in a statement.
”Based on the results of the inquiries,offenses of forgery,money laundering and pornography,in the case of one person only,were investigated,” prosecutors said. ”The criminal proceedings were further expanded to include a fourth person suspected of offenses against the War Material Act,although this person played only a subordinate role.”
Prosecutors said the Tinners have agreed to request a shortened legal procedure that could ensure politically sensitive aspects of the investigation aren’t discussed in court. The unidentified fourth defendant will be charged in separate legal proceedings with breaking Swiss arms exports laws,prosecutors said.
The Tinners,from eastern Switzerland,have been under investigation by Swiss authorities for almost a decade over their involvement in the Khan smuggling ring. Khan sold key equipment such as centrifuges for uranium enrichment to various countries until his operation was disrupted in 2003.
Urs Tinner,who was released on bail in December 2008 after almost five years in investigative detention,claimed in a 2009 interview with Swiss TV station SF1 that he had tipped off US intelligence about a delivery of centrifuge parts meant for Libya’s nuclear weapons program.
The shipment was seized at the Italian port of Taranto in 2003,forcing Libya to admit and eventually renounce its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The CIA has declined to comment on the Tinner case. But the agency has said in the past that ”the disruption of the A.Q. Khan network was a genuine intelligence success,one in which the CIA played a key role.”
A book by U.S. investigative reporters Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins,titled ‘The Nuclear Jihadist’ and based on interviews with sources in the US intelligence community,backs Urs Tinner’s claim that he was recruited by the CIA as early as 2000.
Swiss prosecutors said in their statement Tuesday that the question of the Tinners’ cooperation with the CIA remained unresolved,because the Swiss government denied a request to open a criminal investigation into the issue.
In 2007,the Swiss government ordered evidence in the case destroyed,citing national security concerns. The decision prompted outrage in Switzerland and accusations the government had acted under pressure from Washington.
Prosecutors said they were able to recover copies of some of the files,but others,including all electronic records,have been ”definitively lost.”