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'Nuke middleman had contacts with an Indian'

An Israeli businessman accused of being a middleman in the nuke trade worked to supply to India also.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2004 19:21 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

An Israeli businessman accused of being a middleman in the nuclear black market worked to supply not only Pakistan but also India, US court records indicate.

South Africa-based Asher Karni faces felony charges of exporting nuclear bomb triggers to Pakistan. But court files in the case also include e-mail exchanges between Karni and an Indian businessman who was trying secretly to buy material for two Indian rocket factories.

"Be careful to avoid any reference to the customer name," warned one message from Karni's Indian contact, Raghavendra "Ragu" Rao of Foretek Marketing (Pvt) Ltd.

The messages offer a rare glimpse into such dealings. Federal prosecutors filed them in court as part of their attempts to persuade a judge to keep Karni behind bars before his trial.

After conferring with US Magistrate Judge Alan Kay on Thursday, lawyers for both sides agreed to postpone a bond hearing for Karni until next Tuesday. L Barrett Boss, one of Karni's lawyers, declined comment after the hearing.

Karni, 50, has pleaded innocent. Federal agents arrested him on New Year's Day when he arrived in Denver for a ski vacation. Authorities accuse Karni of using front companies and falsified documents to buy nuclear bomb triggers in the United States and ship them to Pakistan.

The United States is pressuring Pakistan to shut down the black-market network it used to supply its nuclear weapons programme and in turn to supply Iran, North Korea and Libya with nuclear technology.

A key scientist in Pakistan's nuclear programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan, said this month that he ran the network but insisted Pakistan's government was not involved.

Rao's e-mails from India ask Karni to procure three kinds of high-tech equipment while concealing that they were meant for the two rocket labs. The US restricts exports of missile-related material to the two organizations, the Liquid Propulsion Systems Center and Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.

An August 2002 e-mail from Rao to Karni warns Karni to conceal the final customer of an accelerometer to the LPSC, noting its export is restricted because of its "possibility of being used in guidance systems for missiles".

Rao did not respond to AP's e-mails seeking comment on Friday.

Prosecutors said they found his e-mails while searching a laptop computer and six computer discs Karni had when he was arrested.

The court files also include records of other deals Karni made with his contact in Pakistan, Humayun Khan of the company Pakland PME. One involved Khan's urgent request last May for Karni to buy infrared sensors for AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles - which Pakistan uses on its F-16 fighter planes for air-to-air combat.

While it is unclear whether that deal went through, the request shows Karni must have known Khan had ties to the Pakistani military, Assistant US Attorney Jay Bratt argued in court documents.

First Published: Feb 20, 2004 15:58 IST