The Dutch role in shady nuclear deals

20th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

Pakistan has pardoned atomic guru Dr Abdul Khan for trading nuclear secrets, but Khan's Dutch business partner is under investigation in the Netherlands. What exactly was the Dutch connection? Aaron Gray-Block reports.

Suspicions of dodgy backroom deals have prompted the judiciary to investigate a Dutch national and his alleged role in supplying nuclear technology to Libya.

International intelligence services have accused Henk Slebos — the Dutch academic friend and business partner of Pakistan atomic scientist Dr Abdul Khan — of having a dubious relationship to the North African state of Libya.

Once synonymous with terrorism and the Lockerbie bombing, Libya is fast becoming a new found friend of the west.

Importantly though, the German and Italian seizure of a ship full of nuclear components headed for Libya in October 2003 helped prompt it to reveal — and renounce — its nuclear weapons programme in December.

It is curious though that Libya had already started talks with the US and Britain about ending its weapons of mass destruction programme, BBC reported. Did it operate in good faith and tip the Americans and the British off, or was it acting in bad faith?

Back in the Netherlands, however, Justice Ministry sources confirmed on 17 February that an investigation was now underway into a possible Dutch role in Libya's nuclear programme. It is not yet certain what crime Slebos is alleged to have committed.

The Haarlem Public Prosecution Office (OM) has refused to confirm the name of the suspect, but a spokesman said an investigation is being conducted into an alleged breach by a Dutch company of the import and export law.

The allegations relate to "dual use" goods that besides peaceful purposes, can also be applied to military use. The tax office's investigation service, FIOD-ECD, drew up a report about the matter last week, newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported.

It is widely believed that Slebos is the suspect in the investigation. But then allegations against him are not new. His involvement in dubious trading dates back to at least 1985.

Moreover, his name was mentioned again at the start of this month in Pakistan, where government officials revealed that Khan — known as the "father" of Pakistan's bomb — had confessed to selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya via the black market.

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan

Surprisingly, however, Khan was pardoned by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on condition he would co-operate with the ongoing inquiry.

The Pakistan inquiry and other investigations will examine the roles of several intermediaries who allegedly helped supply nuclear technology — including Dutch suspect Slebos — and who were mentioned in reports about Khan's confessions.

The US media also reported last week that American intelligence services had evidence allegedly implicating Slebos in the black market trade.

The Associated Press reported that the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and US agencies have said that Khan’s network became a comprehensive shopping venue for countries wanting atomic bombs.

IAEA chief Mohammed El Baradei has also recently said that the danger of a nuclear war has never been so serious as it is now.

In addition, the Dutch secret service AIVD has confirmed it is investigating how Dutch technology from the Urenco consortium — based in the eastern Dutch city of Almelo — was passed onto Libya, Iran and North Korea in the 1970s. The AIVD is working in co-operation with the IAEA.

Khan worked with a Dutch company called Physics Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO) from 1972-75. The company conducted research for Urenco, which was set up by the British, Dutch and German governments to provide equipment to enrich uranium.

India detonated its first nuclear device in 1974 and it is widely assumed that part of the Pakistan project to develop its own bomb is based on the academic knowledge Khan gleaned in the Netherlands.

Khan obtained blueprints for Urenco centrifuges used to extract uranium 235 — which is needed for a nucle

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