Pakistan caught again in nuclear smuggling activity
The country that became a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile power through theft and subterfuge despite barely having any base in science and technology has once again been caught in the act with the indictment in the US of five Pakistanis associated with a Rawalpindi-based front company called “Business World” on charges of smuggling American technology for Pakistan’s nuclear and missile program.
According to the US Justice Department, the five men, based in Canada, Hong Kong, and United Kingdom, “operated an international procurement network of front companies that existed to acquire US-origin goods for the Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and to cause those goods to be exported from the United States to the entities without export licenses in violation of federals law.”
“The defendants smuggled US origin goods to entities that have been designated for years as threats to US national security for their ties to Pakistan’s weapons programs,” US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C Demers, said in statement, adding, “This indictment … stands as an example of the kind of deceptive behavior US businesses need to watch out for in designing appropriate export control and sanctions compliance programs.”
The five indicted men were named as Muhammad Kamran Wali (Kamran), 41, of Pakistan; Muhammad Ahsan Wali (Ahsan), 48, and Haji Wali Muhammad Sheikh (Haji), 82, both of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; Ashraf Khan Muhammad (Khan) of Hong Kong; and Ahmed Waheed (Waheed), 52, of Ilford, Essex, United Kingdom. They are charged with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Export Control Reform Act.
Significantly, the US statement indicated that the busting of the Pakistani smuggling ring also has a security bearing on India. “The alleged behavior of these five individuals presented more than a violation of US export laws, it posed a potential threat to the national security interests of the United States and to the delicate balance of power among nations within the region,” said Jason Molina, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, adding, “HSI’s Counterproliferation group proactively works investigations into US import-export licensing laws violations because of the threat it can pose to our national security.”
According to the Justice Department press release, both AERO and PAEC were on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, which imposes export license requirements for organizations whose activities are found to be contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests. PAEC was added to the Entity List in 1998. AERO was added to the Entity List in 2014, after the US Government found that it had used intermediaries and front companies to procure items for use in Pakistan’s cruise missile and strategic UAV programs.
According to the indictment, the defendants, none of whom have been apprehended so far, attempted to conceal the true destinations in Pakistan of the US-origin goods by using the conspirators’ network of front companies as the supposed purchasers and end users of the goods and as the apparent source of payments for the goods, even though the goods were ultimately received in Pakistan and paid for by AERO or PAEC.
The defendants caused the US companies to file export documents that falsely identified the Ultimate Consignees of the shipments as entities other than AERO and PAEC, without ever applying for or obtaining an export license from the Department of Commerce authorizing the exports to AERO or PAEC in Pakistan. The indictment identified 38 separate exports from the US that the defendants caused, involving 29 different companies from around the country.
It was exactly 16 years ago to this month when Pakistan was caught in a nuclear smuggling and proliferation scandal involving AQ Khan, a metallurgist whose theft of centrifuge designs from a Dutch company called Urenco largely enabled Pakistan to develop the atomic bomb in the 1980s. Pakistan subsequently sold and bartered the technology to North Korea with China’s help to develop ballistic missiles, even as Khan hawked nuclear wares to Libya and Iran.
Although Khan said Pakistan’s military establishment was fully in on his proliferation activities, the country’s then President and military strongman Pervez Musharraf, now in exile and disgrace, forced him to fall on the sword, and “pardoned” him for his infractions to escape American wrath.
Pakistan eventually got away lightly, and going by the latest indictment, it never stopped its illicit quest to make its nuclear arsenal more lethal.