A Pakistani businessman illegally exported devices from the United States that could be used to test, develop and detonate nuclear weapons, the government alleged yesterday.
A federal indictment against Humayun A. Khan was unsealed along with a guilty plea by his alleged partner, Asher Karni, who admitted routing sophisticated oscilloscopes and high-speed electrical switches through South Africa to avoid raising authorities' suspicions. The scopes and the switches were then shipped to Pakistan.
The United States prohibits the export of the switches -- also known as "triggered spark gaps," which can be used in medical and military devices -- to Pakistan and a handful of other countries in an effort to prevent nuclear proliferation.
Khan maintained his innocence in an interview last year. Department of Homeland Security officials said he is not in custody and is believed to be in Pakistan.
The case raised "serious concerns," said Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Michael J. Garcia, because of the nature of the devices, the fact they were going to Pakistan and efforts by Khan to disguise their destination.
"The proliferation of nuclear components is not only a homeland security threat but a global threat," Garcia said.
The indictment was unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Authorities said Khan, owner and chief executive of Pakland PME Corp. in Islamabad, sought help from Karni, an Israeli citizen living in Cape Town, South Africa, to export oscilloscopes manufactured in Oregon.
Oscilloscopes can be used to test and develop nuclear weapons and missile-delivery systems. They require special Commerce Department licenses to be exported.
Karni exported the oscilloscopes without the licenses three times between March and August 2003, routing them through South Africa to Pakistan, officials said.
Meanwhile, authorities believe, Khan asked Karni to buy triggered spark gaps for a Pakistani customer. The switches can be used in medical equipment to treat kidney stones, but they can also be used as nuclear weapons detonators.
An anonymous source tipped federal authorities to Karni's plans to ship 200 triggered spark gaps from New Jersey to Pakistan through South Africa, authorities said. But the switch manufacturer, PerkinElmer Optoelectronics of Salem, Mass., agreed to ship malfunctioning triggered spark gaps in a plot to foil Khan and Karni.
Karni was arrested on New Year's Day 2004 as he entered the United States at Denver International Airport.
He pleaded guilty in September to five federal felonies, including conspiring to export controlled nuclear technology items to Pakistan.
It was unclear yesterday whether Pakistani authorities would take Khan into custody.
During a February 2004 interview with the Associated Press, Khan acknowledged his ties to Karni but said he had done nothing wrong.
Although his company is a supplier of high-tech products for the Pakistani military, Khan told the AP that he imported military products only for use in armed-forces repair shops. He said he also supplies civilian companies and Pakistan's Education Ministry.
"There is a saying we have that robbers and thieves wear masks," Khan said in the interview. "Would I openly go and ask this man for something that I wanted to put in a nuclear system and use my own name? It is absurd."