An investigating magistrate has recommended three Swiss engineers face trial for allegedly supplying a Pakistan-based network with nuclear weapons technology.
Andreas Müller said on Thursday his recommendation that charges be brought for violating Swiss non-proliferation laws is based on an exhaustive probe into an alleged nuclear smuggling ring.
Müller’s 174-page report “is now being studied in detail” by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, which “will inform the public in due course” on whether charges will be filed against the Tinners, spokeswoman Jeannette Balmer said.
The six-year probe was slowed down after the Swiss government repeatedly ordered evidence to be destroyed, claiming it contained material sensitive to national security.
Presenting his report, Müller sharply criticised the Swiss government, which had “massively interfered in the wheels of justice by destroying almost all the evidence”.
Furthermore, he said the government had ordered the federal criminal police not to cooperate with him.
Müller added he was concerned by the government’s action – a democracy was no longer such, he said, if the separation of powers wasn’t respected – but it was now up to the court to decide what consequences this should have.
However, copies of some of the shredded files have reportedly resurfaced and could form part of the case against Urs Tinner, his brother Marco and their father Friedrich.
They are suspected of supplying the clandestine network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, creator of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, with technical know-how and equipment that was used to make gas centrifuges.
Officials say Khan’s network also supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with parts and plans for building a nuclear bomb before it collapsed in 2003 and 2004.
The Tinners have maintained their innocence and say their work as spies for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) blew the cover off Libya’s now-abandoned atomic ambitions and toppled the ring, run by Khan.
The three Swiss men were arrested in 2004. Father Friedrich was released in 2006 while his sons spent up to January 2009 in detention.
Knew of nuclear aim
Müller said the Tinners did not deny working for the Khan network, but claimed they did not know his aim was to produce nuclear weapons. He also said the Tinners had worked for the CIA since June 2003.
“The findings are that the Tinners might be part of the Khan network,” he said.
“And beginning where they should have known that Khan produced atomic weapons, in May 1998, until they started to collaborate with the secret services, in June 2003, they in their specific roles were part of this network, and delivered parts to the network that the network then itself delivered to other countries, such as Libya.”
Müller described Marco Tinner as the accountant, producer and supplier of the components used for uranium enrichment, who should also face charges of money laundering an amount worth SFr12 million ($12.5 million).
Friedrich Tinner brought know-how to the family operation and Urs was the “workshop manager” in Khan’s factories in Dubai and Malaysia, according to Müller.
He added that “there is no contrary proof that they were not on the payroll“ of the CIA.
Earlier this week a US think-tank renewed accusations against the Swiss authorities and the US government of bungling the Tinners’ case.
A report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said the Swiss, the CIA and the Tinners themselves had thwarted efforts to limit nuclear weapon know-how.
US officials in Bern had no immediate comment.
In 2004 the International Atomic Energy Agency supplied the Swiss authorities with a list of two companies and 15 individuals suspected of dealing in nuclear material with Iran and Libya.
Swiss engineer Urs Tinner, who is suspected of helping Libya obtain nuclear weapons technology, was arrested in Germany in October 2004. He was extradited to Switzerland in 2005.
His father Friedrich and brother Marco were also arrested by the Swiss authorities on suspicion of breaking the law on war materials by illegally exporting nuclear bomb-making equipment to Libya.
swissinfo.ch and agencies