July 5, 2008 / 4:25 PM / 9 years ago

Pakistan army denies report of atom scientist charge

By Kamran Haider

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, July 5 (Reuters) - The Pakistan military denied on Saturday a report quoting disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan as saying the army, its spy agency and President Pervez Musharraf had known about the sale of centrifuges to North Korea eight years ago.

"I would like to categorically say it's wrong, false," Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, director general of Strategic Planning Division (SPD) that oversees Pakistan's nuclear weapons, told a news conference in Rawalpindi, where the army is headquartered.

Kidwai said Khan was seeking to falsely implicate Musharraf, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the SPD and the army in nuclear proliferation.

Khan, 72, was placed under house arrest in Islamabad in 2004 soon after a televised confession to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

On Friday, the Associated Press quoted Khan as saying the army had "complete knowledge" of the shipment of used P-1 centrifuges to North Korea in 2000, and Musharraf must have given his consent.

Speaking to other media later, including Reuters, Khan backed off from this account, referring to passages from Musharraf's autobiography, published in 2006.

Musharraf wrote: "We were once informed that a chartered aircraft going to North Korea for conventional missiles was also going to carry some "irregular cargo on his (Khan's) behalf."

Musharraf said he ordered a search of the aircraft but nothing was found. Later he was told Khan's people had been tipped off and the suspect cargo had not been loaded.

Musharraf took action against Khan after being confronted with evidence of the scientist's activities by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Still revered by many Pakistanis as the father of the country's atomic bomb, Khan maintains he agreed to take the rap alone in return for assurances that Musharraf never honoured.

Musharraf pardoned Khan, but the scientist said he had also expected to have been rehabilitated and allowed to travel freely.

Encouraged by the formation of a coalition government made up of anti-Musharraf parties, following an election in February, Khan has asked a court to lift his detention.

The new government relaxed some restrictions on Khan and he has been able to talk to the media on the telephone.

The Khans said there would be no more interviews or statements until after a court decides whether the scientist should be released.

Pakistan considers its investigation of Khan to be closed. (Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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