Pakistani nuclear scientists made personal profit

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's government on Monday made its clearest public statement yet that scientists of its secretive nuclear weapons program leaked technology and would face legal action.

The government said its two-month probe into allegations of nuclear technology proliferation to Iran and Libya was near completion.

"One or two people acted in an irresponsible manner for personal profit. Money is involved in the matter. I am not naming any scientist," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference in Islamabad.

Ahmed made the comments amid fevered speculation that leading scientists will face prosecution.

Pakistan began its probe into its nuclear program and possible proliferation to Iran in late November after admissions made by Tehran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog. Allegations also have surfaced that Pakistani technology spread to Libya and North Korea as well.

Pakistan's government denies it authorized any transfers of weapons technology to other countries, but says individuals may have done so for their own profit.

Ahmed said three scientists and four security officials of the Khan Research Laboratories were still detained and that questioning would wind up within days.

Media reports have identified the key suspects as the lab's former director-general Dr. Mohammed Farooq, held for nearly two months, and the lab's founder, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, long regarded as a national hero.

Khan has not been detained, but an acquaintance has said he is confined to Islamabad.

Investigators are tracking the bank accounts of some scientists, and a Pakistani newspaper report Sunday said they had found accounts of two scientists with millions of U.S. dollars in transactions tied to the sale of nuclear technology to Iran. The report did not name the scientists.

Speaking to reporters in the southern city of Karachi on Monday, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat promised legal action against anyone involved in proliferation, saying, "no one will be spared at any level."

"We will take legal action against them ... so that it becomes an example for others and no patriotic Pakistani should even think of selling out Pakistan," Hayyat said.

He refused to release the names of scientists whose bank accounts are being examined.

The prospect of nuclear scientists being prosecuted has sparked isolated protests by Islamic hard-liners in Pakistan, who accuse President Gen. Pervez Musharraf of caving in to the United States by leveling accusations against scientists who helped produce the Muslim world's first nuclear bomb as a deterrent against nuclear-armed rival India.

On Monday, dozens of supporters of the opposition coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal and relatives of detained scientists rallied outside Parliament in Islamabad, chanting, "Go Musharraf Go!"

Ahmed said the probe would not compromise Pakistan's right to a nuclear deterrent against India.

"For national security, we are committed to defend our national assets at every cost," he said. "In this, there is no flexibility in our policy."

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