updated 9/3/2004 3:36:14 PM ET 2004-09-03T19:36:14

The head of a South African engineering company was charged Friday with trafficking in nuclear-related materials that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

Johan Meyer, 53, made a brief appearance at Vanderbijlpark Magistrates Court on charges of violating South Africa’s Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act and Nuclear Energy Act. He was not asked to plead and was remanded in custody pending a bail hearing on Sept. 8.

Details were sketchy. But the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria said Meyer’s arrest was linked to international investigations into the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the disgraced founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program who admitted in February to passing nuclear technology to other countries.

According to the charge sheet, Meyer is accused of illegally importing, manufacturing and exporting materials between Nov. 21, 2000, and Nov. 30, 2001, that “could contribute to the design, development, manufacture, deployment, maintenance or use of weapons of mass destruction.”

The document cites a lathe manufactured by the Spanish-based company Denn, for which Meyer allegedly did not have the necessary permit from the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The document also said Meyer, who was arrested Thursday, was in possession of material, equipment and plans for the design and use of gas centrifuges, used to enrich uranium.

Lawyer: ‘We deny it’
Meyer’s lawyer, Heinrich Badenhorst, told the South African Press Association that his client is accused of manufacturing banned items at his engineering company in this largely industrial area, about 60 miles southeast of Johannesburg.

“At this stage, we deny it,” Badenhorst was quoted as saying.

Abdul Minty, chairman of the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, said the arrest follows an investigation into a number of companies and individuals in cooperation with other countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“There has been a recovery of items alleged to have been used in the contraventions,” he said in a brief statement issued late Thursday.

Minty refused to elaborate when contacted by The Associated Press.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that “South Africa’s decisive action adds vital information to the worldwide investigation into the (Khan) network’s reach and sends the right signal to proliferators everywhere.”

Policy of disarmament, non-proliferation
South Africa started a nuclear-weapons program in the 1970s as a deterrent against neighboring states opposed to apartheid and Cold War instability that was fueling the war in nearby Angola. Two decades later, it voluntarily dismantled the program, winning praise from the IAEA.

Since then, South Africa has followed a strict policy of disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Minty said in the statement.

A South Africa-based Israeli businessman, Asher Karni, was arrested in Denver on New Year’s Day and accused of using front companies and falsified documents to buy nuclear bomb triggers in the United States for shipment to Pakistan.

Another South Africa-based suspect, identified only as Gerhard W., was arrested in Germany in August and accused of acting as a middleman in a 2001 request to provide pipes to Libya for use in a uranium enrichment facility. A company in South Africa manufactured the pipes, but they apparently were not delivered to Libya, prosecutors there said.

It was not clear whether Meyer’s arrest was linked to either case.

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