A German engineer’s trial started Thursday, June 5 for his role in a global nuclear mafia which sold weapons technology to regimes in Iran, North Korea and Libya.
The sales violated Germany's trade and weapons laws
Starting in 1999, Gotthard Lerch allegedly supplied Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi with centrifuges, manuals and control systems to construct a nuclear weapon. He has been charged with violating Germany's War Weapons Control Act and Foreign Trade Act.
Lerch is accused of being a member of a global nuclear mafia led by discredited Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Group members allegedly amassed wealth by illegally peddling nuclear technology to regimes in Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Under suspicion since 1980s
The group was uncovered in 2003, when a German ship was intercepted carrying a cargo of containers filled with South African-made nuclear weapons technology destined for Libya. The seizure prompted Gadhafi to disclose the names of all those who had supplied Tripoli with material and expertise for its nuclear program, which the country eventually abandoned.
Lerch allegedly earned 55 million German marks (approximately 28 million euros, $43 million) for his role in the deal. Investigations showed links between Lerch and the discredited Pakistani scientist Khan, who is known as the "father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb."
The engineer had been under suspicion since the 1980s for “misappropriating” blueprints from a joint German-British-Dutch uranium enrichment facility in the Netherlands, but he was never convicted. Lerch was also brought to trial in the southwestern German city of Mannheim in 2006, but the case was eventually thrown out after the court found the government had withheld documents.
Other engineers convicted in South Africa
Swiss engineer Daniel Geiges was given a suspended 13-year prison sentence in a South African court in February, 2008 after being found guilty for his role in the smuggling ring. Geiges, 69, who is seriously ill with cancer, struck a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Geiges' former boss, German engineer Gerhard Wisser, was also tried and convicted in South Africa in 2007. Wisser received an 18-year suspended jail term and three years' correctional supervision for his role in the affair.