Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.
Friedrich Tinner and his sons Urs and Marco have been accused of providing gas centrifuge components for the nuclear trafficking network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network was initially used to provide Pakistan with nuclear weapons, but later was aimed at assisting the nuclear weapons programs of several other countries, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
Gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, a process that can produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.
The Tinner case has suffered from major political complications stemming from the family’s suspected assistance to the CIA in shutting down the Khan network in 2003. Although Swiss law prohibits such cooperation with a foreign intelligence agency, in 2007 the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s highest executive body, canceled an investigation into the Tinners’ work with the CIA. Also in 2007, the council destroyed key evidence related to the Tinners’ participation in the Khan network, ostensibly to prevent the further spread of sensitive nuclear weapons-related information. (See ACT, July/August 2008.) In 2009 the Swiss parliament published a report describing U.S. pressure on the Swiss government to destroy the documentation, which included nuclear warhead designs.
According to prosecutors, the Tinners have agreed to plead guilty to the smuggling charges as part of an expedited legal procedure that would avoid publicly airing sensitive evidence, the Associated Press reported Dec. 13. The procedure, however, cannot result in a prison term of more than five years. The Tinners all have served several years in prison awaiting trial.