Libyan nerve gas tanks go missing in Malaysia

Click to follow
The Independent Online
EQUIPMENT for a Libyan poison gas plant, made by a British-owned company in Malaysia and returned there last year after the United Nations Security Council blocked delivery, has disappeared.

The issue has resurfaced as the Pergau dam affair has put British dealings with Malaysia under intense scrutiny. It could complicate government attempts to remain on good terms with a country sensitive to any perceived interference in relations with fellow Islamic states.

Concern over Malaysia's Libyan connection was renewed recently when the government auctioned eight steel reactor tanks which had been returned from Singapore, where they were seized last March on the orders of the Security Council's sanctions committee. The buyer was a small local trading company whose only contact is a mobile telephone number. The equipment left a Malaysian customs warehouse a few weeks ago, though other governments have been told it is in the country and will not be permitted to reach Libya.

But one Western diplomat said: 'We are not 100 per cent happy, and won't be until we see this equipment in the hands of a non-Libyan end-user who actually wants it.'

Britain has co-ordinated efforts to keep the tanks out of Libya since becoming aware in 1989 of Tripoli's attempts to obtain them. It says the equipment could produce hundreds of tons of mustard gas and nerve gases. Kuala Lumpur refused to stop the first delivery attempt, saying they were for civilian use.

The telephone number of the buyer, Wargamas Management, is unobtainable, but investigators who have spoken to the company's directors say they claim to be trying to sell the vessels to Petronas, Malaysia's state oil company, or an American company. Another source said the equipment had been tailor-made for Tripoli and could not be adapted easily for other uses.

A spokesman for the Malaysian High Commission in London declined to comment, saying he would have to check with Kuala Lumpur.

Libya first tried in 1989 to order reactor vessels from a British engineering company, APV, saying they would be used to produce drilling mud for the oil industry. Western agencies suspected that they would be used to make chemical weapons. When the order was rejected, the Libyans turned to an obscure Malaysian company, Pacificwide Management, which again has only a mobile number. Pacificwide ordered the equipment from APV's Malaysian subsidiary, APV Hill & Mills, and went to court to obtain completion of the contract after the British-owned company, having become aware of the destination of the vessels, tried to back out.

With the Malaysian government refusing to intervene, Britain went to the sanctions committee. The shipment was declared to be a violation of the embargo imposed on Libya to force the handover of two intelligence agents accused of the Lockerbie bombing.