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Profile: HM Customs and Excise
HM Customs and Excise was a participant or observer in the following events:
A shipment of equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear program is seized in Britain by Customs and Excise. Details of the order are not known, although there has been controversy in Britain over nuclear purchases by Pakistanis for some months. The shipment was apparently prepared by long-time Khan collaborator Peter Griffin of Weargate Ltd. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 100]
British authorities intercept telexes between Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and British businessman Peter Griffin, who has been supplying parts for Khan’s nuclear weapons program (see Summer 1976). Griffin will comment: “I would get my usual telex from Khan and the next day a telex from [British] Customs with lists of all the new things going on to the export control list, which coincidentally were all the things that Khan had just asked for.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 55]
British Customs and Excise officers interview Peter Griffin, a British businessman who supplies equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Griffin tells customs that he has recently received an order for six devices known as mandrels, equipment used to produce high-precision cylindrical objects. Griffin knows it will be difficult to deliver this order, as a previous order of equipment was seized by customs (see February 1979). He has informed the head of Pakistan’s Special Works Organization (SWO) that he will be unable to ship them, because he will not get an export license. However, he obtains the mandrels and moves them to an export packager, to stop them being damaged. Apparently, they are the final piece of equipment ordered by SWO for the production of bellows, which a 2005 customs report will describe as “centrifuge component parts.” Griffin tells investigators that he did not originally understand what the equipment was to be used for, but now realizes its intended use. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 99-100] Abdus Salam, one of Griffin’s business partners, was put under surveillance the previous year (see (Fall 1979)).
British Customs and Excise intercepts a shipment of maraging steel bound for Pakistan via Moscow at Gatwick Airport in London. The steel could be for use in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and was to be delivered to Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean official who facilitates nuclear co-operation between Pakistan and his government. When it investigates Kang, Customs and Excise discovers that he has also brokered a deal to buy maraging steel from the All-Russian Institute of Light Alloys in Moscow, and the purchase was made on behalf of Pakistan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279]
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).
After arriving in Dubai to investigate the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, British customs agent Atif Amin meets the chief of the British intelligence agency MI6’s station in the United Arab Emirates. Amin briefs the station chief on the investigation he plans to conduct, and gives him a list of companies he intends to visit. The station chief asks to be kept up-to-date, but the only concern he expresses is that Amin should, in the words of authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, “not get too close to one of the institutions on the list, Habib Bank.” The bank was used by one of Khan’s suppliers, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, to send payments to another, Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It is unclear why the station chief makes this request. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 182] MI6 had previously asked Amin to stay away from another of the companies involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).
A joint investigation by British Customs agent Atif Amin and Dubai police lieutenant Alwari Essam uncovers links between the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring and “high-ranking Dubai officials.” This occurs in the first two weeks of the investigation, which the authorities in Dubai had tried to hamper (see August 1999-March 2000). The two investigators are able to uncover the links because they are following leads uncovered by Amin in Britain, and the two agents check out a number of businesses whose names have previously come up in the inquiry in Dubai. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 183]
British customs agent Atif Amin, who is investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, periodically briefs the local station of the British intelligence agency MI6 on how his investigation is proceeding. He tells MI6 that he has discovered new front companies and apartments used by Khan during his trips to Dubai. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “But MI6 offered Amin no useful information or assistance. The general sense, according to a source familiar with the briefings, was one of displeasure that the inquiry was taking place at all.” However, the station chief does tell Amin that the Khan network is aware of the investigation, but does not think it will turn up much. Presumably, MI6 obtains this information from communications intercepts. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 184]
During the course of an investigation into A. Q. Khan’s nuclear smuggling ring, British customs agent Atif Amin and Dubai policeman Alwari Essam visit a plastic bag manufacturer called Green Crest Industries (M.E.) Ltd. in Dubai. According to Amin, the visit is made because an entry in a suspect’s phone book listed a Dubai phone number for Khan that is registered to Green Crest. In addition, apartments and post office boxes rented for Khan by an associate named Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir appear to be linked to Green Crest. However, the manager and several other employees all deny any knowledge of Khan. At that point, another employee wanders past and says in Punjabi: “Sure we do. He has a flat and he comes here all the time.” Amin, who speaks Punjabi, understands the remark, as well as the manager’s sharp reply. The atmosphere turns hostile and the two investigators leave. Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will later talk to the company’s owner, Shaik Muhammad Farooq, who has a long history of dealings with Khan (see Late 1970s-1980s). Farooq will say that Green Crest had “absolutely no relationship” with Tahir, except that they had once swapped apartments in a Dubai building. However, when Farooq is asked later whether Khan ever visited Green Crest, he will curiously contradict himself as he replies: “He never visited our factories. He never visited our office. He never visited. Except sometimes he is there and he is inviting a lot of people including other businessman for dinner or so otherwise no. Absolutely baseless… I’m 100 percent sure he never visited us.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 184-5]
Investigators Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the Dubai police learn that the A. Q. Khan nuclear procurement ring has shipped ring magnets, key components for building centrifuges, from Pakistan to Libya, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The discovery is made when they visit a company called Deepsea Freight Services, a shipping agency that had been used by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, the subject of a British customs investigation, to ship goods from Britain to two Khan front companies in Pakistan, United Engineering and Trading Co. and Allied Engineering. The manager at Deepsea, K. Hafeez Uddin, shows the two investigators files about the traffic and they find documents about shipments of goods from Siddiqui in Britain to Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, and then from Tahir to the Khan fronts in Pakistan. However, Amin then notices documents about shipments of the ring magnets from one of the front companies in Pakistan to Tahir in Dubai, and then on to Libya. The consignee for some of the ring magnet shipments is a company called Desert Electrical, a company the British intelligence service MI6 had warned Amin to avoid looking into (see March 2000). Amin asks to take the files, but Hafeez refuses permission, and also does not allow copies to be made, meaning the two investigators leave with no documentation. Hafeez will later make a series of contradictory statements about his business dealings with the Khan network, but a source on the British customs investigation will say, “The fact is that Deepsea received multiple shipments from Siddiqui and forwarded them on to Pakistan,” adding, “It also received multiple shipments from [Khan Research Laboratories]-related companies destined for Tahir’s front companies in Dubai.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 186-7]
British customs recalls one of its agents, Atif Amin, from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network. Amin learns of his recall in a phone call from his acting boss, who tells him to “[g]et your ass on the next flight to London.” Amin protests, saying that threats that have apparently been made against him by the network are not as bad as is being made out (see Late March 2000), and that he could stay at the British embassy, rather than a hotel. However, his boss says that the orders have come from above and there can be no discussion. Amin had been about to interview a key Khan associate, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but is forced to return home before doing so. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 191-192]
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