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Originally published Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 12:15 PM

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Swiss order more evidence destroyed in nuke probe

The Swiss government on Wednesday ordered the quick destruction of about 100 pages of evidence linked to an investigation of three Swiss engineers suspected of smuggling nuclear weapons technology.

Associated Press Writer

GENEVA —

The Swiss government on Wednesday ordered the quick destruction of about 100 pages of evidence linked to an investigation of three Swiss engineers suspected of smuggling nuclear weapons technology.

The Cabinet said the documents were "the most explosive" material in a file of more than 1,000 pages related to the case against the Tinner family, which is suspected of links to the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan - the creator of Pakistan's atomic bomb.

The documents are copies of files destroyed in 2007 under a previous order that led to protests from lawmakers and legal experts, who said the government undermined the prosecution in the smuggling case. The copies were found in prosecutors' archives last December.

Citing security concerns and its legal obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Cabinet, or Federal Council, said that about 100 pages dealing with atomic weapons designs would be shredded shortly to keep them out of "the wrong hands." It didn't give a date for the destruction.

Less sensitive documents, such as those dealing with uranium enrichment, will be kept under high security at the Federal Justice Department, the government said. It added that investigators, prosecutors, courts and the Tinner family's lawyers can view them under tight restrictions, but they will be destroyed at the end of legal proceedings.

Urs Tinner, his brother Marco and their father Freidrich are suspected of supplying Khan's black market nuclear network with the technical know-how and equipment used to make gas centrifuges. Khan sold the centrifuges for secret nuclear weapons programs in countries that included Libya and Iran before his operation was disrupted in 2003.

Andreas Mueller, the magistrate who has been working for years to bring a case against the Tinners, welcomed the government's decision to make most of the copies available to investigators.

He said the shredding of files had complicated an already complex case and made it harder to piece together a complete picture of the Tinners' involvement in the Khan ring. Meanwhile, Switzerland's highest criminal court criticized the government for opting to destroy further evidence, and said it was disappointed not to be informed earlier.

Complicating the case further are claims by Urs Tinner, 43, that he supplied the CIA with information that led to the breakup of Khan's network. In a recent documentary, Tinner told Swiss TV he tipped off U.S. intelligence about a delivery of centrifuge parts meant for Libya.

The shipment was seized at the Italian port of Taranto in 2003, forcing Libya to admit and eventually renounce its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Former Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said the government decided to destroy the original documents after he refused in 2007 an American request to hand over thousands of the files.

---

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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