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Context of 'August 29, 2001: A. Q. Khan Procurement Agent Found Guilty of Export Violations in Britain'

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A shipment of special aluminum for the A. Q. Khan network is seized in London by British customs. The shipment was arranged by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a British-based supplier for the Khan network. Siddiqui’s company, Orland Europe Ltd., received the order in November 1998 from a Dubai-based facilitator for Khan’s network named Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but it had originated with Mohammad Farooq, director of foreign procurement at Khan Research Laboratories.
Siddiqui Warned - Customs learned of the order thanks to a tipoff from the British intelligence agency MI6. Customs agent Maxine Crook and a colleague called on Siddiqui in January 1999 to inform him that the export of some metals required a license, and, if there was any doubt, it was best to contact the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to check if one was required for a specific transaction. Crook also told Siddiqui that he should contact the DTI if he again did business with three companies with which he had previously traded, and that Dubai was a well-known “diversionary point” for goods going to “countries of concern” related to the smuggling of components for nuclear programs. Finally, Crook told Siddiqui he should consult the DTI about the current order for the aluminum. After the visit, Crook sent Siddiqui a letter summarizing the main points of the visit, and Siddiqui acknowledged the letter.
Seizure - Siddiqui went ahead with the order without asking for a license anyway, and customs officials seize it on the docks in London. A search of his home and office yields records of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment that has been shipped to Khan over the last decade, a brochure describing the uranium enrichment process, a photo of Siddiqui and Khan together, and a magazine with an article on Khan in which he said he wanted to “buy whatever we can from the international market” to support Pakistan’s nuclear program. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 178-180)

Following a raid on Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a supplier for A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation ring (see May 7, 1999), British customs examines the evidence it has seized and realizes that the investigation is not a simple case of Siddiqui exporting specialized metals without a license, but that they have opened a much larger can of worms. The investigation, known as Operation Akin, is led by Atif Amin, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent assigned to a special counterproliferation team, and they question Siddiqui twice, learning a lot more about the Khan network in the process. Customs also arranges that if a contact of Siddiqui, the Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, enters Britain, he will be arrested. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 180-181)

After British customs expands an investigation into a supplier for A. Q. Khan’s nuclear smuggling network (see After May 10, 1999), it realizes that a key point of the operation is in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In order for customs to prosecute the supplier for anything other than export license violations, they have to prove where the goods he shipped ended up. Customs submits a formal request to Dubai’s Ministry of Justice for permission to carry out the investigation in August 1999. The request contains a list of individuals and entities they plan to investigate, as well as phone numbers, bank accounts, and e-mail addresses they want to trace. Although the Dubai authorities usually cooperate with investigations into cigarette and drug smuggling, they have acquired a reputation for rejecting requests for counterproliferation investigations. It takes several appeals and over half a year before the request is approved and lead investigator Atif Amin is allowed to come to Dubai to pursue the investigation. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 181)

Shortly before British customs agent Atif Amin is to leave for Dubai to pursue an investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring (see After May 10, 1999), he is warned off a particular company by the British intelligence agency MI6. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, the message comes through “liaison channels” and informs Amin that he should “steer clear” of a company called Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, even if the company comes up in his investigation. British customs are not investigating the company in connection with Khan’s operations, although its owner is reportedly a partner of Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir in another company called SMB Computers. Libyan officials will later tell investigators that at this time Desert Electrical’s facilities are being used to manufacture centrifuge components and train Libyan scientists. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 181-182) The MI6 station chief in Dubai will warn Amin off another company involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).

Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a procurement agent for A. Q. Khan’s nuclear smuggling ring, is convicted in Britain on three counts of violating British export regulations. He had been shipping materials and technology to be used to build nuclear weapons, but his activities were uncovered by British customs (see May 7, 1999). The prosecution had argued that Siddiqui knew well that what he exported was destined for Pakistan’s nuclear program, and linked him to Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, a Dubai-based middleman in the network. Many of the details of Khan’s operations are revealed in court, but, due to obstruction by authorities in Dubai, not all of them can be submitted as evidence. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 194) Siddiqui will be given an extremely lenient sentence (see October 8, 2001).

Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a procurement agent for the A. Q. Khan network, receives what an individual familiar with the case describes as a “remarkably lenient” sentence for assistance he gave the network. The judge, George Bathurst-Norman, acknowledges that the crimes Siddiqui committed (see August 29, 2001) would usually carry a “very substantial” prison term, but says that there are “exceptional circumstances,” claiming that Siddiqui had been too trusting and had been “blinded” to facts that were “absolutely staring [him] in the face.” Siddiqui gets a twelve-month suspended sentence and a fine of £6,000 (about $10,000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will comment, “In a scenario eerily reminiscent of earlier nuclear smuggling cases in the United States and Canada, Siddiqui walked out of court essentially a free man.” They will also offer an explanation for the volte-face between conviction and sentencing, pointing out that there was a key event in the interim: due to the 9/11 attacks “Pakistan was once again a vital British and American ally. And, as in the past, it became imperative that Islamabad not be embarrassed over its nuclear program for fear of losing its cooperation….” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 194)


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