BERLIN, Sept. 23 -- German authorities announced Thursday that they had arrested a man suspected of selling high-tech equipment on the nuclear black market, the third German businessman named as a suspect in the past month in an investigation into the trade in several countries.
The latest suspect, identified only as Helmut R., 53, was arrested Tuesday in his home town of Friedrichshafen, near the Swiss and Austrian borders, according to a statement issued by the German prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe. Investigators also carried out simultaneous raids on his home and workshop in Friedrichshafen, as well as a business in northern Germany and two other sites in Switzerland, the statement said.
The man was released on bail and has not been charged. But prosecutors said he had arranged for the delivery of plutonium-separating equipment to an unnamed country as part of an effort to create a nuclear weapons program. They also said the man was suspected of spying against Germany but would not say on whose behalf he had allegedly worked.
German authorities said the arrest resulted from a probe into trading on the global nuclear black market that began in August 2003.
Last month, prosecutors disclosed they were investigating two other German businessmen -- Gerhard Wisser and Gotthard Lerch -- suspected of helping supply Libya with equipment to produce highly enriched uranium for atomic weapons. Wisser was arrested and released on bail, and Lerch's home in Switzerland was raided by police.
Wisser has also drawn the interest of South African authorities, who charged him two weeks ago with violating that country's ban on nuclear proliferation by arranging for a South African firm to make parts for Libya's nuclear weapons program, which has since been dismantled. A Swiss man who works with Wisser's engineering firm was also charged.
The arrests and charges are part of a global investigation, spearheaded by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that extends to about 20 countries. The probe's focus is a nuclear technology network run by Pakistan's top atomic scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, that is suspected of helping North Korea, Iran and Libya develop weapons programs.
Staff writer Dafna Linzer contributed to this report.