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Pakistan traded cash for silence { February 17 2004 }

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Pakistani traded cash for silence

February 17, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Abdul Qadeer Khan spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy loyalty -- writing checks for anything from seminars to friends' weddings -- in a scheme that allowed him to elude suspicion as head of the world's most successful nuclear black market, senior scientists and government officials said Monday.

Pakistan acknowledged this month that Khan sold weapons secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

But signs that the grandfatherly engineer was up to something illegal had been around for years.

''If you wrote to him that you wanted to attend a seminar or that your daughter was getting married, he would write back and there would be a check in there for you,'' said Pervez Hoodhboy, a physicist at Islamabad's prestigious Quaid-e-Azam University. ''He was very generous and he bought a lot of support, so people didn't say anything.''

Pakistan is believed to have spent $5 billion on its nuclear weapons program, which it launched after the 1971 war with India. It was not clear how much of the funds were controlled by Khan, but the figures certainly ran into the hundreds of millions.

Khan's supporters insist that he and six other detained nuclear officials have been made scapegoats to cover up government involvement in the nuclear leaks.

Shafiq ur-Rehman, a spokesman for the detained scientists' families, said the government was afraid that one day, when he was freed from custody, Khan would tell the real story behind the nuclear proliferation.

''The truth will not be easy to swallow,'' he said.

But opponents say there is no doubt of Khan's guilt -- with or without the government's involvement.

A.H. Nayyar, another physics professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, said Khan portrayed himself as Pakistan's nuclear savior against the threat posed by India. Senior Pakistani journalists were said to be on his payroll, said several government officials.

Pakistan for months denied any nuclear leaks, but officials have since acknowledged they were aware at least since 2001 -- when President Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed Khan from his post as head of the country's top nuclear lab.

Khan has confessed and was pardoned by Musharraf. U.S. officials have said the pardon is an internal Pakistani matter, but others have criticized the deal, including the former U.S. chief weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay.

''I can think of no one who deserves less to be pardoned,'' Kay said.


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