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Proliferation: Lankan man may have answers

By Agencies
February 09, 2004 17:18 IST
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A 44-year-old Sri Lankan businessman, Bukary Syed Abu Tahir, with ties to Malaysia's business elite may know a lot about Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear dealings, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Last week, Khan confessed to illicitly selling nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran.

Pakistan's Nuclear Bazaar

According to the report, Asian and Western intelligence officials say they believe that Tahir was a key operative for the scientist.

They say Khan has confessed that the Sri Lankan helped him in his illicit dealings.

The two men, who have been

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close friends for years, often travelled together on business, the report quotes sources as saying.

Tahir, who operates a computer-supply and trading business known as SMB Group from his headquarters in Dubai, is known in Malaysia as a successful trading executive. Among his close friends is Kamaluddin Abdullah, son of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the sources say.

Since late November, Malaysian has been probing Tahir's role in the sale of centrifuge parts made by one of Kamaluddin's companies to a Dubai-based firm, Gulf Technical Industries LLC, which may have intended them for use in Libya's now-aborted nuclear programme. The investigation followed the interception of a Libya-bound shipment of the Malaysian components by European intelligence agencies in October 2003.

Tahir, the report quotes Malaysian police as saying, commissioned an oil-and-engineering company controlled by Kamaluddin to make the parts, which were to be delivered in 2002 and 2003. The company, a unit of Scomi Group Bhd, has said it didn't know the intended "end use" of the parts, or who the ultimate buyer was.

The Malaysian police, the US Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's MI6 have already interrogated Tahir, the report quotes officials as saying.

On Friday, the report says, Scomi executives took journalists on a tour of the factory near Kuala Lumpur where the parts were made. The executives said the company had nothing to hide.

During the mid-1990s, Tahir began cultivating business links to Malaysia, striking up relationships with Muslim business and political leaders, including with Kamaluddin, whose father was then Malaysia's foreign minister.

"He was easygoing, soft-spoken and very generous," the report quotes a Malaysian businessman, who knows Tahir well, as saying.

It isn't clear when the Tahir-Khan relationship began, but some intelligence officials believe it dates to the late 1980s.

Malaysian officials and others familiar with the Scomi affair say Tahir was the central figure in arranging the company's 13 million ringgit ($3.4 million) centrifuge-parts contract.

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