3 Swiss convicted in nuclear smuggling case
BELLINZONA, Switzerland - Three engineers from the same family were convicted Tuesday in Switzerland for their central roles in an international smuggling network that has supplied the nuclear programs of Libya, Iran and North Korea.
The federal criminal court in Bellinzona found Friedrich Tinner, 75, and his sons - Urs, 46, and Marco, 43 - guilty of having supplied technology and know-how to the nascent nuclear weapons program of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi until 2003, when the country was forced to give up this project under international pressure.
Under a deal with the prosecution, the three pleaded guilty in return for avoiding further prison time. They also avoided a lengthy trial that might have shed more light on their double roles as informants for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
This cooperation has created political tensions between Switzerland and the U.S., as Washington successfully lobbied the government in Bern not to indict the Tinners as agents, and to destroy some sensitive evidence.
The Bellinzona court honored the request regarding the Tinners' spying and sabotage work on behalf of the CIA, which led to the disbanding of the international smuggling network masterminded by the engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.
The elder Tinner received a sentence of two years on probation, while Urs was sentenced to 50 months and Marco to 41 months. They will not go to prison because of the long times that they have been held in custody.
According to the indictment, "gas centrifuge parts were altered by the indicted persons on orders of U.S. authorities, in order to make them unfit to be used in an installation."
Libya had ordered thousands of centrifuges for making highly enriched uranium, a material that can be used in nuclear warheads. A large shipment with centrifuge parts was caught by German intelligence on the way from Dubai to Libya in October 2003, four months after the Tinner family began working for the U.S.
Friedrich Tinner and his sons refused to shed light on their cooperation with the CIA on the trial's first day on Monday.
Asked why he hadn't informed Swiss authorities of his sensitive export work, the father said that the matter had been "in good hands" with his U.S. counterparts.
The Tinners were found guilty of having supplied machinery and training and of having manufactured centrifuges in a Malaysian factory and also received financial fines.
Other engineers in the so-called Khan network operated in Turkey, Britain, Spain, Dubai and South Africa.
Khan remains under house arrest in Pakistan, but he was never prosecuted.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran has received information on designing nuclear explosives similar to the one that the Khan network gave Libya.
The Tinners likely had similar blueprints on their laptop, although it is unclear whether they were in contact with Iran, said Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear policy expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, who has been following the case.
"The Tinners were absolutely central to the Khan network," he told the German news agency dpa.