Tinner assistant acquitted in nuclear smuggling case

The Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, where the man was acquitted of collaborating with members of the Tinner family Keystone

This content was published on November 12, 2014 minutes and agencies

An engineer has been acquitted of collaborating with members of the Tinner family, who were convicted of nuclear smuggling. 

He will receive compensation of CHF35,000 ($36,000) and the Swiss government will pay his legal costs. The Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona ruled on Wednesday he had not promoted the manufacture of nuclear weapons – something he had been accused of by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in 2012. 

At the time he was fined CHF6,000 and given a suspended sentence of 120 days in prison and a CHF250 fine, but he appealed. In July 2013, the federal prosecutor issued a further sentence, against which the man again appealed. 

During his trial, he maintained that the system he had developed – for the individualised control of nuclear centrifuges – was designed for civilian not military ends. 

Family affair 

The case of Friedrich Tinner and his sons Marco and Urs started in 2004 when 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.

Urs Tinner, who was suspected of helping Libya obtain nuclear weapons technology, was arrested in Germany in October 2004 and extradited to Switzerland in 2005. Friedrich and 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. 

In September 2012, the Federal Criminal Court accepted a plea bargain, ending a long-running probe into the family. All three Tinners are now free, but they had to pay fines and legal costs. 

The family were part of a network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as the “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”, which also supplied technical support to the nuclear programmes of North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

Destroyed files 

Despite the length of time the case has taken, many of the details concerning the Tinners’ involvement will never be known. 

In March 2013, the justice ministry implemented a cabinet decision and destroyed copies of documents that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office had found in its archives at the end of 2008. 

The files comprised 58 pages of information on the manufacture of nuclear weapons, together with other documents with information on uranium enrichment. The originals were destroyed with other documents back in 2007 on instructions from the cabinet.

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