President of a Japanese precision instrument maker Mitutoyo Corp. was arrested over the alleged export to Malaysia of equipment that can be used in making nuclear weapons, officials said Friday.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested Kazusaku Tezuka, along with four other Mitutoyo executives and employees, on suspicion of violating foreign trade control laws, trade ministry official Hiroyuki Murakami said.
Mitutoyo is suspected of illegally exporting two three-dimensional measuring devices that can be converted for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons to its subsidiary in Malaysia, one each in October and November, 2001, Murakami said.
Three-dimensional measuring machines map cylindrical shapes to great detail and cannot be exported without government permission, according to Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry officials. High-tech versions of the machine can measure centrifuges used in uranium enrichment, Murakami said.
Police also suspect Mitutoyo may have exported similar equipment to a company connected with Iran's nuclear program via an Iranian trading company based in Tokyo, Kyodo News agency said.
Police refused to immediately comment on the reports. Phone calls to Mitutoyo were met with an answering machine message saying the company was not open for business Friday, AP reports.
A spokesman for Mitutoyo in Malaysia said that company officials there were not aware of what was going on at their Japanese headquarters.
"We are only a subsidiary company. Whatever is going on is on the high, corporate level. We don't know anything and cannot make any comments," said the spokesman, who identified himself only as Shen.
Authorities did not call or visit Mitutoyo sales office in Shah Alam in the central Selangor state of Malaysia, he added.
Police raided Mitutoyo's offices near Tokyo in February over suspicions it had exported three-dimensional measuring machines to Japanese companies in China and Thailand in 2001 without seeking the required permission, media reports said.
At that time, Mitutoyo denied it attempted to evade the law. The company also said it was conducting an internal investigation of its export and other procedures.
Separately, Japanese news reports said the International Atomic Energy Agency also discovered Mitutoyo-made machinery at nuclear-related sites in Libya during inspections in December 2003 and January 2004.
The equipment was shipped to Libya via Dubai by Scomi Precision Engineering Bhd., a Malaysian manufacturer linked to an international nuclear trafficking network, Kyodo reported.
The company, also known as SCOPE, imported six units from Mitutoyo in early 2002, Kyodo said.
The company was linked to a proliferation network led by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, when some 25,000 SCOPE-produced centrifuge parts for enriching uranium were seized in October 2003 en route to Libya.
Malaysian police cleared SCOPE of allegations that it knew the parts were bound for Libya, or intended for nuclear use. The company said it thought they were destined for the oil and gas industry in Dubai.
Libya said in 2003 it had given up what had been a secret nuclear, biological and chemical weapons program, handing over drawings of a crude nuclear bomb to the IAEA.
Japan's technological prowess as Asia's most advanced economy makes it an attractive shopping ground for countries and others eager to build a nuclear weapon. Resource-poor Japan is active in nuclear energy.