You rang, Dr Khan?

Sometimes following the esoterica of the nuclear black market seems so weird that it seems like a scene out of the Addams Family. Let’s see: Dr Khan would be Gomez, the bright, energetic businessman; and, in a nice case of life imitating art (sort of), Lurch would be played by Lurch.

Okay, I used artistic license; it’s Lerch, Gotthard Lerch actually. Still, Lerch seemed to serve Dr Khan just as faithfully as Lurch served Gomez Addams. Here is some of what Mark Hibbs wrote about him the September 24 issue of Nuclear Fuels:

The government of South Africa on September 11 told the IAEA Board of Governors that Gotthard Lerch, a German engineer whose 2006 trial on export control charges resulted in a mistrial verdict, was a main actor in Libyan efforts between 1997 and 2003 to obtain a clandestine gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant.

South African authorities this year told Platts that autoclave blueprints they had seized during an investigation of Gerhard Wisser, another German engineer, resembled blueprints obtained by Platts that prosecutors said Lerch allegedly had gotten from Leybold Heraeus AG, his former employer. Those blueprints were used to manufacture equipment in Switzerland that was believed to have been exported to Dubai and destined for Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program.

Lerch quit Leybold-Heraeus in 1985, about the time Urenco informed German law enforcement agencies that autoclave blueprints designed for the Urenco uranium enrichment program had been purloined and found in Switzerland. Lerch moved from Germany to Switzerland in late 1985.

Thereafter, personnel at a Swiss firm, Metallwerke Buchs AG, provided German prosecutors affidavits asserting that Lerch had given the firm the blueprints to make the autoclaves for an unidentified client and that the project was to be kept secret.

Shortly after it was revealed in 2003 that Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had masterminded the procurement of centrifuge enrichment technology and equipment for the Libyan project, Germany instigated judicial investigation and then prosecution of Lerch for allegedly contributing to that effort.

Last year, however, the trial of Lerch collapsed after judges threw out testimony of Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, an associate of Khan, asserting that Lerch was paid 28 million euros (US million) for his role in the Libyan project. Lerch’s retrial has not yet begun.

At the IAEA on September 11, South Africa spelled out what it described as Lerch’s role in the Libyan project in cooperation with Wisser.

According to South Africa’s report to the board, when Lerch left Leybold-Heraeus for Switzerland in 1985, he set up the firm AVE Apparate, Verfahren, & Engineering AG in Buchs. South Africa told the IAEA governors that Wisser [acknowledged] that Lerch entered into a conspiracy with Khan and Tahir to supply countries like Pakistan with nuclear equipment for their weapons programs. Using AVE, Lerch placed orders with Wisser to manufacture components in South Africa intended for countries like Pakistan, according to the report.

Between 1988 and 1990, Lerch appointed Wisser to attempt to sell on his behalf a set of plans for a complete gas centrifuge enrichment plant. These plans had been obtained by Lerch; however, this sale did not take place, the report said.

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