Five executives of the Mitutoyo Corporation, a precision instruments maker, were arrested today on suspicion of illegally exporting equipment to Malaysia that could be used in making nuclear weapons.
Japanese television broadcast video images of police raiding the company’s headquarters in the city of Kawasaki. A spokesman for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police said the president of the company, Kazusaku Tezuka, 67, and four other executives were taken into custody.
The case turns on what the police said were shipments of advanced measuring devices that were sent to an unspecified recipient in Malaysia in late 2001 without government permission. In Japan as in most advanced nations, exports of advanced technology with potential uses in nuclear bomb-making are tightly regulated and licenses are required.
While police provided few further details, reports by the Kyodo News Agency and many leading Japanese newspapers suggested that the devices may have been shipped to Scomi Precision Engineering, a company that has since been linked to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who organized the sale of nuclear technology to Libya.
The newspaper and agency reports said that at least one of Mitutoyo’s devices later found its way to Libya by way of Dubai on an Iranian-flagged cargo ship.
The reports said police were also investigating whether other similar measuring devices may have been sent to Iran through a Tokyo-based trading company.
The United Nations has threatened Iran with sanctions if it does not halt its enrichment of uranium by Aug. 31. Iran says the enrichment is for peaceful purposes, but the United States and other nations fear that it could instead be for weapons-making. Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program three years ago.
Police officials refused to either confirm or deny the news reports, which appeared to be based on exclusive briefings that government officials here frequently give to large local media organizations. An employee at Mitutoyo’s headquarters confirmed that the five executives had been arrested but refused to comment further.
The news reports said police were trying to determine whether Mitutoyo’s devices were used by Scomi to manufacture centrifuge parts that were sold to Libya for use in enriching uranium. In October 2003, containers full of centrifuge parts made by Scomi were intercepted on their way to Libya, a discovery that led to the uncovering of Dr. Khan’s role in Libya’s attempts to build nuclear weapons.
Malaysian police later cleared Scomi of wrongdoing. The company said it did not know the parts were bound for Libya, believing instead that they would be used in oil and gas production in Dubai.
Tokyo police said Mitutoyo exported two of the advanced devices, known as coordinate measuring machines, to Malaysia in separate shipments by way of Singapore in October and November 2001. The devices allow mechanical parts to be manufactured to very precise specifications. Though they are most often used for ordinary products like auto parts, they can also make possible the manufacture of specialized equipment for nuclear bomb-making. Mitutoyo is one of the world’s largest makers of the most advanced types of coordinate measuring devices.
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