Alleged SA nuke dealer's 'embarrassing' past

Alleged nuclear weapons dealer Asher Karni (50) was fired from a South African company last year after it emerged that he had been secretly trading under his own name, said Labour lawyer Michael Bagraim, who was acting on behalf of a company called Eagle Technology.

Bagraim told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday that he had dismissed Karni at a disciplinary hearing held last year at his offices in Cape Town.

Bagraim is the national chairperson of the Jewish Board of Deputies, but said he could not comment about Karni in that capacity. He said it had come to light that Karni had been trading under his own name while employed at South African company Eagle Technology.
Eagle Technology imports and manufactures components used in the medical, scientific and military industries.

Karni is now in jail in Denver, Colorado, and has been accused of supplying trigger devices to Pakistan that could be used to detonate nuclear weapons. He faces a 10-year jail sentence if convicted.

According to the New York Times US authorities charge in court documents that Karni was at the centre of a global operation that used front companies and false billing records to route the trigger devices from a private manufacturer in the US to South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and ultimately Pakistan.

Karni faces charges under the United States Export Administration Act. US officials arrested Karni at the Denver International airport on January 2, after he arrived for a skiing holiday with his family.

Speaking about Karni’s dismissal, Bagraim said Eagle Technology had first got wind of Karni’s dealings when some of its clients had contacted it and said that Karni was offering them products at cheaper prices.

Bagraim said Karni had disagreed with the disciplinary hearing’s findings, and the matter was then referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Bagraim said he had then cross-examined Karni at the CCMA about his private arms deals for four days, after which Karni withdrew his case.

“It became absolutely clear that he was trading for his own account. In getting to that point we had to cross-examine about his private dealings. We also cross-examined him about the accounts of Top-Cape and Mask and where the money came from, and that became a bit embarrassing.”

Karni owns a company called Top-Cape Technology, located in Cape Town. The company’s website reports that Karni arrived in South Africa in 1985 and has a BSc degree from Bar Ilan University and an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

The website also reports that Top-Cape offers “a wide range of electronics products for the commercial and military industry”. It reports that Karni’s “experience, integrity, honesty and friendliness placed him and his company as prime supplier to the local and international electronics market place”.

This weekend, the Sunday Times reported that a close associate of Karni’s tipped off US authorities about the deal. The paper said the source had supplied US authorities with a disk apparently containing e-mails that had allegedly been exchanged between Cape Town-based Karni and Pakistani weapons buyers.

A US magistrate ruled last week that Karni could be released on a $75 000 cash bond, but the US government has appealed that decision. US prosecutors in Washington DC are expected to argue this week for Karni’s continued detention. Prosecutors are to argue that if Karni were released on bail, he would flee to Israel or South Africa.

Rabbi Jonathan Altman of the Beit Midrash Morasha in Arthur’s Road, Sea Point, Cape Town, told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday that he had known Karni for two years, and that he was “very charitable and well liked”.

Altman said it had come as a shock that such allegations had been put to such a person, and that it was the court’s role to judge.

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