Malaysia firm tied to nuclear trading

Oil-gas conglomerate has links to national officials

equipment went to Libya

February 05, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A publicly traded Malaysian oil and gas conglomerate that supplied high-quality nuclear components to Libya is the latest link to emerge in a rogue nuclear trading network stretching back to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the creator of the Pakistani nuclear bomb.

The components were made by Scomi Precision Engineering, based in Selangor, Malaysia, a subsidiary of Scomi Group Berhad, Malaysian and Western investigators and the company said yesterday.

The parts were shipped to a company in Dubai in four consignments between December 2002 and August, Scomi Group said in a statement.

Scomi's largest shareholder is the son of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Kamaluddin Abdullah. The prime minister's son, who is 35, has no management role in the company and does not sit on the board. He is only a shareholder, a Malaysian official familiar with the company said.

Scomi's chairman is Tan Sri Asmat Kamaluddin, a former secretary-general of Malaysia's international trade ministry.

The manufacturer said it was not told by the Dubai company where the components were going. Scomi declined to answer any questions beyond the four-paragraph statement it issued.

A government official said last night that the prime minister will insist on a thorough investigation of the transaction.

Western and Malaysian investigators said the equipment was ordered by Khan, who admitted responsibility for trading nuclear secrets in a televised statement to the nation in Pakistan yesterday.

Khan made periodic trips to Malaysia over the past few years, according to Malaysian and Western intelligence agencies, not always traveling under his real name.

The components, which were to be used in centrifuges to make weapons-grade uranium, were "very high-quality, very high-tech," said a Western official. "It required a lot of expertise."

U.S. and United Nations officials are investigating the secret network of trade in nuclear weapons designs and equipment that originated in Khan's laboratory in Pakistan and extended to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

In its statement, Scomi said that the contract for the components was arranged by B.S.A. Tahir, described as a Sri Lankan businessman based in Dubai. The contract was worth about $4 million, the company said.

On one occasion, according to a Malaysian official, Khan came to Malaysia for Tahir's wedding. The Sri Lankan Embassy here denied any knowledge of Tahir.

But a Malaysian government official said Tahir is now in this country. He has not been arrested or detained, the official said, and he is cooperating with the investigation.

"Malaysia was an unwitting participant in all this," an official in the prime minister's office said, speaking on the condition that he not be identified.

But with the tight control that the Malaysian government has traditionally exercised, many Malaysians and foreign diplomats doubt that a sale of this nature would have been possible without the knowledge of at least some senior government officials, probably in the military.

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