The godfather of Pakistan's atomic bomb has claimed that some of the country's top generals were complicit in transferring nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, receiving millions in kickbacks from the pariah regime.
In a letter released by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the disgraced nuclear scientist, the North Korean ruling party appears to confirm that it paid more than $3.5m (£2.2m) to the serving army chief and at least one other senior general.
The 1998 letter, passed on to a Washington-based nuclear expert, was released as part of an attempt by Khan to establish that he was not working on his own when nuclear secrets were passed on to Iran, North Korea and Libya before his fall from grace.
Khan issued a tearful confession on Pakistani state television in 2004. He was subsequently pardoned by the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. Khan lives under house arrest. No military officials have been charged with complicity. The two generals named in the letter fiercely denied the allegation, and denounced the letter as a forgery. General Jahangir Karamat, a former army chief, said that he never received the $3m claimed. The general added that the letter was Khan's latest attempt to "shift blame on to others".
Retired Lieutenant General Zulfiqar Khan, whom the letter claims to have received "half-a-million dollars and three diamond and ruby sets", said the letter was "a fabrication". Tehmina Janjua, the spokesperson for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, echoed him, calling the allegations "totally baseless". A senior Pakistani official derided the claims. "There's a critical flaw in this story," said the official. "Who pays a bribe and confirms the fact in a letter for the record?"
The purported letter at the heart of the allegations bears no letterhead. It is entitled "secret" with instructions to be delivered "by hand". The letter is signed by "Jon Byong Ho", who is described as the "secretary" of the Workers Party of Korea.
The letter does not specifically mention any nuclear technology. Instead, it asks Khan to "Please give the agreed documents, components, etc. to Mr Yon to be flown back when our plane returns after delivery of missile components". Mr Yon is the supposed name of a North Korean envoy for the deal.
The letter and the allegations made by Khan were first passed on to theWashington Post. The newspaper reported that it was unable to independently confirm the details.
Opinion is divided not just over the authenticity of the documents, but also whether they establish that Khan was not acting alone. The Washington Post quoted unnamed US officials as saying that the letter's contents were "consistent with our knowledge" of the events described. But David Albright, a nuclear proliferation expert with the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, disputes Khan's claims that top military officials were complicit. "[The letter] shows that Khan was a rogue agent and he colluded to provide centrifuge components to North Korea without Pakistani official approval," the AP quoted him as saying.Reuse content