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Court finds 3 Swiss guilty of aiding nuclear ring
GENEVA -- A court in Switzerland found three men guilty Tuesday of helping supply material and know-how to Libya's atomic weapons program almost a decade ago, but approved a plea bargain that cited the defendants' cooperation with the CIA as a mitigating circumstance.
The Swiss Federal Criminal Court sentenced Urs Tinner, 46, and his brother Marco, 43, to prison terms that are shorter than the time they have already spent in investigative custody. Their 74-year-old father, Friedrich, received a suspended sentence. All three had pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay fines and substantial legal costs.
The case shed rare light on the U.S. intelligence agency's successful operation to destroy the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
Khan built up an international network selling equipment to countries with nuclear weapons ambitions during the 1990s. Swiss prosecutors alleged all three Tinners were involved in the smuggling ring and supplied key equipment and blueprints for the production of gas centrifuges that are needed to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels.
Urs Tinner claimed in a 2009 interview with Swiss television that he had tipped off the CIA about a delivery of centrifuge parts destined for Libya's nuclear weapons program. The shipment was seized at the Italian port of Taranto in October 2003, forcing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to admit and eventually renounce his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons technology.
Swiss prosecutors said there was evidence the Tinners had cooperated with U.S. officials since at least June 18, 2003, and that the three engineers had manipulated the centrifuge parts intended for Libya to ensure they wouldn't function properly.
The CIA declined to comment on the verdict Tuesday. 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."
"It's ironic that the ones who cooperated with the CIA did the most jail time," said David Albright, founder of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Most of those involved in the smuggling ring -- including Khan himself -- have escaped serious punishment.
Urs Tinner spent 1,536 days in investigative custody, while his brother Marco was detained for 1,237 days before being released on bail. The long detentions resulted partly from the complexity of the prosecution and partly from the Swiss government's decision in 2007 to destroy evidence in the case -- reportedly after pressure from the United States.
"From a prosecution point of view the case is closed now," Switzerland's attorney general, Michael Lauber, told The Associated Press after the verdict.
Judges at the court in Bellinzona suggested that the Tinners should have received harsher punishments, but approved the plea bargain, saying a successful prosecution would have been unlikely because of the destruction of evidence.
Jordans contributed from Berlin.