Singing about Dr Khan in South Africa

As everybody should know by now Pakistan has long made it clear that the West has much chance of questioning Dr Khan about his network as a snowball has of remaining frozen in hell. But that does not mean additional information about the doctor’s network can’t be obtained. I and others have noted in the past that there have been some, if sporadic and fitful, attempts to prosecute some of Dr Khan’s former colleagues and suppliers.

And, as it turns out the route to disclosure runs through South Africa. Let’s look at what Mark Hibbs reported in the September 24 issue of Nuclear Fuels:

South Africa has no plans to extradite Gerhard Wisser, an engineer sought by Germany in connection with Libya’s former uranium enrichment procurement program, or to provide other information sought by German justice authorities in their ongoing prosecution of another German suspect in the case, Gotthard Lerch, senior South African officials told Platts last week.

South Africa has no extradition treaty with Germany but theoretically could agree to extradite Wisser and to cooperate with Germany in the case, officials said. However, they explained, Pretoria has little confidence that Germany and other advanced nuclear technology-holding states will effectively prosecute individuals and firms suspected of aiding nuclear weapons procurement efforts in Pakistan, Libya, or Iran. These officials also raised concerns that the confidentiality of any information provided by South Africa to German authorities might not be protected.

While Hibbs does not explicitly mention it, because most who follow this issue already know this, Germany was a major supplier to Dr Khan’s network. So what South Africa is really saying to Germany is that we don’t think you have the chutzpah to prosecute your own citizens.

German sources suggested instead that South Africa might not agree to extradite Wisser to Germany as part of a plea bargain South African authorities made with Wisser. According to this deal, they said, Wisser will not go to jail or face further prosecution, providing he discloses to South African agencies everything he knows about a procurement network that former Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan is suspected of having operated.

On September 4, Wisser pleaded guilty to seven counts of export control violations that South African prosecutors brought in 2006. According to information South Africa provided to the IAEA Board of Governors on September 11, the violations concerned Wisser’s activities related to Khan’s alleged procurement for nuclear programs in Libya and Pakistan.

South Africa told the IAEA governors that Wisser received a suspended sentence of 18 years for his involvement in procurement activities that Khan masterminded.

According to South African officials last week, the terms of Wisser’s sentence commit him to sign an affidavit detailing what he knows about the network. During criminal proceedings so far, they said, Wisser has withheld this knowledge from South African authorities.

If South African agencies in coming weeks are not satisfied that Wisser has disclosed all he knows, one official said, Wisser will go to jail for about 10 years.

Regardless of Wisser’s guilty plea entered September 4, South African officials said, Pretoria cannot agree to extradite Wisser to Germany or to provide additional information on Wisser’s activities until Wisser discloses the outstanding information to South Africa on the Khan network.

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