German's trial over Libya nuke program nears end

Saturday, October 11, 2008

STUTTGART, Germany: A German engineer has acknowledged that he helped procure parts for a centrifuge system that authorities say was meant for Libya's now-abandoned nuclear weapons program, a court said Thursday.

Gotthard Lerch went on trial in June, accused of supplying Libya with sensitive technology in the knowledge that the country was seeking atomic weapons. Prosecutors have accused him of playing a key role in the network led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Lerch faces charges that he broke German export and weapons laws by helping supply uranium-enriching equipment to Libya between 1999 and 2003.

The Stuttgart state court on Thursday said Lerch "admitted having supported the production of ... piping systems for a gas ultra centrifuge facility in South Africa." It added in a statement that the International Atomic Energy Agency says the facility was meant for Libya's program.

The court said Lerch's admission followed consultations between prosecutors and the defense, and that the court had said it would impose a sentence of no more than six years in prison if he confessed. The charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 15 years.

Lerch originally went on trial in 2006, but a lower state court in Mannheim ended those proceedings, saying that prosecutors and investigators possessed documents "about which the court knew nothing," raising doubts about whether the trial could proceed fairly.

Prosecutors have said Khan tasked Lerch and other members of a "circle of trusted helpers" who had helped Pakistan's nuclear program with delivering the equipment to Libya.

Lerch was arrested in Switzerland in 2004 and extradited to Germany in 2005.

In early 2004 Khan was found to have sold sensitive technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

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