Nuclear expert 'admits selling secrets'

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, has admitted selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, government officials said on Monday.

They said Khan had given a detailed account of his dealings with the three countries last week, as a two-month investigation into the alleged proliferation of Pakistan’s nuclear technology was winding down.

According to a source who claimed to be involved in the investigation, Khan had admitted selling on Pakistan’s nuclear know-how for most of the past two decades. The official said Khan was driven by “personal greed and ambition”.

Other officials told journalists that Khan, who had previously denied the allegations, claimed to have traded the technology to raise funds for nuclear research, and as a show of solidarity with Muslim countries.

There was no indication on Monday whether Khan would face criminal charges, which could include treason.

“He has admitted these things,” a military official said, on the condition of anonymity. “It has yet to be decided whether he goes on trial or not.”

Last week, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s President, suggested that anyone found guilty of trading nuclear secrets would be prosecuted.

“No one is above the law, ” he said.

Diplomats and analysts in Islamabad suggested on Monday that Khan may not be charged. He is a hero to many in Pakistan for his leading role in developing the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Some newspapers have begun campaigns to protect him from a government many consider too obliging to the United States.

Considering the possibility of criminal charges, the Urdu language daily Nawa-i-Waqt said: “Whatever reason the government gives to justify its actions, the nation will consider it a step toward completion of the American agenda in this region.”

Speaking to a Pakistani satellite channel in December, Khan said: “I am being accused for nothing. I never visited Iran, I don’t know any Iranian, nor do I know any Iranian scientist. I will be targeted naturally because I made the nuclear bomb.”

Musharraf is expected to reveal the outcome of the investigation and indicate what is to be done with Khan after the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha. It ends on Thursday in Pakistan.

One Western diplomat in Islamabad said: “I imagine he’ll spend the next few days watching the public reaction very carefully before he makes his mind up. It’s quite a dilemma.”

Khan was sacked from his role as a government adviser on Saturday, after a meeting of Pakistan’s nuclear command authority to discuss his alleged confession.

He has since been, in effect, under house arrest, with no one except close family members allowed to visit him at his home in Islamabad.

Six other people linked to Khan are being investigated, including three retired army officers.

Musharraf first acknowledged that there had been illicit transfers of Pakistan’s nuclear technology last week. But he said it was the work of “rogue individuals” and not state policy.

A senior official told journalists: “There were intelligence lapses on our part and we admit to them—we should not have allowed this loose administrative and security system to have prevailed.”

The investigation began in November, partly at the request of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose investigators discovered that Iran’s nuclear programme appeared to be modelled on Pakistan’s programme.

Immediately after Khan was dismissed on Saturday, senior government officials began leaking incriminating information about him to journalists.

This included details of Khan’s alleged assets, an important part of the evidence against him, considering his state salary of £15 000 a year.

He is reported to own four houses in Islamabad, a villa on the city’s outskirts and a hotel in Timbuktu, in Mali.

Western diplomats regard the apparent campaign to single out Khan with suspicion.

His work was closely monitored and approved by the military.

Khan could not have sold Pakistan’s nuclear secrets without the knowledge of top-level members of that group, they say.—Guardian Unlimited Â

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