WORLD

The nuclear caper

IAN AUSTEN July 27 1987
WORLD

The nuclear caper

IAN AUSTEN July 27 1987

The nuclear caper

The inquiry raised immediate suspicions at the Carpenter Steel Corp. in Reading, Pa. In 1986 a man approached the company about the possibility of ordering 25 tons of an extremely costly and rare steel alloy. The man told the steelmaker that his Pakistani client planned to remelt the metal—a process that would destroy its special, high-strength properties. Concerned by the man’s request, company officials called the U.S. Customs Service. A 20-month undercover investigation by Canadian and U.S. officials resulted last week in the arrest of Arshad Pervez, a Pakistani-born Canadian representative of Torontobased AP Enterprises, in Philadelphia. And if the charges in the indictment against the Toronto-area resident are proven, the investigation will also have uncovered the second known attempt by selfstyled agents of Pakistan to obtain materials for its nuclear weapons program through Canada.

Moslem Pakistan — which has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty —is widely believed to have undertaken a program to build nuclear weapons 13 years ago. At that time India, its rival Hindu neighbor, tested Zia: suspicions

its first nuclear device. While the government of President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq continues to insist that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, most international observers say that Pakistan has either assembled a nuclear weapon of its own or has gathered all the necessary parts. Said Leonard Spector, a nuclear weapons expert at

the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “It’s as if they have a gun and all the components for one bullet.”

The previous case involving Pakistan, Canada and illegalities concluded three years ago when two Montreal engineers and an electronics firm were fined by a Quebec Superior Court judge for attempting to ship U.S.-made components to Pakistan without valid export permits. During that trial the Crown argued that the electronic parts were intended for a new uranium enrichment plant in Pakistan. As well, in 1985 when the Pakistani government had attempted to place an order for the steel alloy with Carpenter, the U.S. government blocked the deal on the grounds that the material might be used in machines to produce weapons-grade uranium.

Last week, according

to the affidavit filed in a Philadelphia district court, Carpenter officials agreed to go ahead with the Pervez order at the request of the U.S. Customs Service. The indictment states that John New, a Philadelphia-based customs agent, pretended to be an international marketing analyst for the company and set up a meeting in Toronto last November with Pervez. In the company of a Canada Customs agent and a Carpenter executive, New listened as Pervez gave a confusing account of why he needed the steel. At first New, a former employee of IBM Canada Ltd., said that the steel was destined for use in rocket motors. But later in the meeting, Pervez allegedly changed his story to say that it was for a research project sponsored by Karachi University’s engineering department.

During the following months New emphasized in telephone calls to Pervez that obtaining an export permit for the metal would be difficult. As a solution to the problem, the Canadian allegedly suggested that Carpenter offer a U.S. commerce department official a $6,600 bribe for a permit. Later, according to court documents, Pervez lowered the amount he was willing to pay to $4,000.

Early last January, according to court documents, Pervez travelled to Philadelphia. There he met Frank Rovello, an undercover customs agent posing as a commerce department official. Pervez, according to the indictment, paid $1,300 as down payment for an export permit. In June, New allegedly met Pervez at a Toronto hotel to finalize the deal. The agent told Pervez that he thought the special metal was for Pakistan’s uranium-enrichment facility at Kahuta. Pervez first denied the suggestion. But at the end of the meeting, New later wrote in an affidavit, Pervez “told me laughingly that ‘the Kahuta client is ready.’ ”

David Warren, the U.S. Customs special agent in charge of enforcement in Philadelphia, said last week that more arrests were expected over the next month. Pervez is currently being held without bail. For its part, Pakistan has denied any connection. But the incident will likely remain a source of trouble to the Moslem nation in the coming months. According to a 1985 law, the extensive U.S. aid program to Pakistan must stop if it is proven that the Islamabad government is building nuclear weapons. Said New York Democratic Representative Stephen Solarz, who sponsored the legislation: “If we don’t enforce the law, it will make a mockery of our nonproliferation policy.”

— IAN AUSTEN in Washington