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Lankan implicated in nuclear deal released but can’t leave Malaysia

Malaysia will not allow Sri Lankan Buhary Seyed Abu Tahir, a key accomplice of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan accused of transferring nuclear weapons components to Libya, to leave that country at least for the time being, well informed sources said.

Khan, the main figure in this case which attracted global interest, is under house arrest in Pakistan.

Despite his recent release from custody, Tahir, held in connection with the only high profile investigation of this nature involving British and US intelligence services, would be held in Malaysia for the moment, the sources said.

The Sunday Island learns that Tahir’s movements have been restricted and he is under orders to report to police on a weekly basis.

In early May, Malaysia released him from Kamunting detention centre after four years in custody. He was arrested in May 2004 under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act which allows indefinite detention without trial.

Although both Khan and Tahir wouldn’t be happy with restrictions imposed on them, an influential group which had blackmailed Khan to the tune of USD 1.7 m. to 2.3 m. not to reveal the secrets of this case, would be glad about Malaysia’s stand as Tahir’s release could cause problems, the sources said.

A series of payments are alleged to have made to the group after it threatened to reveal the clandestine operations of Khan’s network. The blackmailers are believed to have contacted Khan through Tahir around the time US and British intelligence services had briefed Pakistan of Khan activities.

Well informed sources said Khan had sought to recover the blackmail he paid through the intervention of the Sri Lankan government.

Tahir was described by the outgoing US President George W. Bush in 2004 as the "chief financial officer and money launderer" for Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Married to Nazimah Syed Majid, a daughter of a retired Malaysian diplomat, Tahir, an old boy of Hartley College, Point Pedro, is the only Sri Lankan held over a high profile investigation which involved British, US and Pakistan Intelligence Services.

Father of three, the businessman had been a permanent resident of Malaysia and an associate of influential Malaysians including politicians.

Tahir’s alleged activity had come to light when a ship owned by a German company was examined at the port of Taranto in Italy on Oct. 4, 2003. Authorities found five Libya-bound containers believed to contain components related to the Libyan uranium enrichment program.

The 25,000 centrifuge parts were in wooden boxes with the logo of Scomi Precision Engineering Sdn. Bhd., or SCOPE, a subsidiary of Scomi Group in which Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s son, Kamaluddin, had a stake.

The discovery led to the uncovering of a secret network led by Abdul Qadeer Khan. Tahir’s arrest was made eight months after the Italian detection but Malaysian investigations, however, cleared SCOPE, which was subsequently closed.

The possibility of Tahir implicating some influential Malaysians in the nuclear ring would prompt the Malaysian government to hold him, the sources said.

Investigations revealed that Tahir had in 2001 offered a contract to SCOPE for supplying the semi-finished products after falsely assuring them it was a legitimate deal and not related to nuclear technology.

SCOPE claimed it had shipped 14 semi-finished components to Dubai-based Gulf Technical Industries in four consignments from December 2002. The end-user of these components was never disclosed.

Khan admitted passing nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea in a televised confession in February 2004, placing him in the thick of a global atomic black market.

In July Khan declared the Pakistan government was aware of the shipment of nuclear material to North Korea in 2000. Pakistan swiftly denied the allegation.

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