'Sting' claim at plutonium trial

The trial of three men accused of smuggling weapons-grade plutonium to Germany began in Munich yesterday, with defence lawyers arguing that the trial should be stopped because of the role played by the German government.

The men, two Spaniards and a Colombian, have admitted bringing 363g (about 13oz) of plutonium from Moscow to Munich in August as the first instalment of a $267m (£170m) deal. They could hardly deny it, since they were caught red-handed. But they say they are the victims of a government sting. Without the German intelligence services, they suggest, there would have been no crime.

Yesterday the judge said it was not a political trial, but in practice it will be: the German authorities will be on trial almost as much as the men. And there seems little immediate prospect that those who offered the plutonium for sale in Moscow will be caught or brought to trial.

When the smuggling was first exposed, the German authorities did not hide the fact that it had been a form of sting. Their intention was partly to draw attention to what they regarded as the potential dangers in Moscow and elsewhere. It was what Bernd Schmidbauer, responsible for co-ordinating the intelligence services, described as a preventive operation.

A former head of BND, the foreign espionage service, recently said such an operation was perfectly legitimate: "The reason why rats exist isn't that somebody puts out poisoned bait for them."

None the less, a report last month in Der Spiegel on "The BND's bomb swindle" had a dramatic effect in Germany. The magazine published evidence showing the intelligence services had been luring the sellers to market. Der Spiegel gave a precise account of how the sting was set up, with bugged meetings in Madrid and Moscow.

Those on trial in Munich are Justiniano Torres, 38, a Colombian and Julio Oroz, 49, and Javier Bengoechea, 61, both Spaniards. They acted as middlemen and were arrested after the plutonium was seized at Munich airport. Yesterday the judge suggested the court might hand down a more lenient judgment if the BND were shown to have triggered the whole affair.

The suggestion that the intelligence services were actively involved at an early stage caused enormous controversy and prompted the setting up of a parliamentary investigation committee.

The Russians muddied the waters by saying the plutonium did not come originally from Russia but was deliberately sent from Germany to Russia in order to be smuggled out again. Georgi Kaurov, spokesman of the Russian atomic energy ministry, said: "The German public has been deceived ... Bernd Schmidbauer lied the whole time." German experts insist that analysis demonstrates conclusively that the 363g of plutonium came from the former Soviet Union. The only question is which plant it came from.

The Russians have been reluctant to help German investigators, claiming the case has merely been staged in order to give an excuse to "bring the Russian nuclear complex under international control".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own