- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Authorities yesterday arrested a Sri Lankan businessman accused of brokering black market nuclear deals — the most senior figure in the proliferation network of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan to be jailed since it was exposed this year.

Buhary Syed Abu Tahir was picked up under a security law allowing indefinite detention without trial and taken to a prison camp three months after police cleared him of breaking any Malaysian laws for arranging for a company controlled by the prime minister’s son to make centrifuge parts for Libya’s nuclear programs.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who earlier insisted the police investigation proved there had been no wrongdoing and that Mr. Tahir would remain free, personally signed the detention order in his capacity as home minister, government officials said.

“He is deemed as a national security threat because of his past activities in this country,” one official said on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Tahir’s arrest is believed to be the only detention of a senior operative of Mr. Khan’s network since the scientist admitted in February to selling know-how and secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Mr. Khan after he made a public apology.

The use of the security law to arrest Mr. Tahir means he is unlikely to face charges in open court.

International investigators say Mr. Khan’s network operated on five continents and was able to exploit loopholes in international nonproliferation treaties to provide what International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei called a “nuclear supermarket.”

President Bush, making a new bid to stem global weapons proliferation after Mr. Khan’s network was exposed, identified Mr. Tahir as its “chief financial officer and money launderer.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was “delighted” by Mr. Tahir’s arrest.

“We think his arrest is a major step and it will serve as a catalyst to international efforts to shut down the Khan network,” he said.

In a related development, The U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna, Austria, said in a confidential report yesterday it had found traces of high and low enriched uranium on Libyan nuclear centrifuges.

The agency said that among the issues still to be resolved about Libya’s nuclear weapons program, abandoned in December 2003, were “the sources of low enriched and high enriched uranium contamination found on gas centrifuge equipment in Libya.”

Centrifuges can be used to produce uranium for an atom bomb.

However, the agency said it had found no evidence that Libya had begun building a nuclear warhead.

The finding of enriched uranium on the centrifuges, which Libya bought on a black market linked to Mr. Khan, would appear to support Iran’s insistence that bomb-grade uranium found on its centrifuges last year had come from the machines’ previous owners in Pakistan.

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