In an unexpected turn of events Swiss authorities announced a decision to enter into a plea bargain with the notorious Tinner family members, who have been in jail over nuclear smuggling charges in the illicit network of disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The Tinners, Friedrich and his two sons Urs and Marco, were also accused of being informants for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and one of the father-sons team was actually said to have been a CIA contractor.
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland this week noted that it had formally filed charges against the Tinnners under the War Material Act, an indictment based on their alleged aiding of “the illegal nuclear weapons programme of an unknown state through various activities.”
However the Swiss authority also sought to close the case against the Tinners after the courts found verdicts of guilt “in relation to offences under the WMA and against one of the sons for forgery of documents.” The prosecutors said that the proceedings in respect of other offences had already been dropped and the court was “requested to accept a plea bargain between the parties covering sentences, the allocation of costs, the forfeiture of assets and other matters.”
One Washington think-tank that has closely tracked the case, the Institute for Science and International Security, said that the Tinners were expected to plead guilty in an agreement “that will likely include no further jail time.”
ISIS however said that it applauded the Swiss authorities’ announcement as it left in place “a precedent that proliferators will be prosecuted for their crimes by governments.” For years, the ongoing, unresolved case against the Tinners has exposed sensitive government activities and created a constitutional crisis in Switzerland, ISIS analysts said.
The case against the Tinners gained momentum last December after a Swiss Magistrate recommended bringing charges against them notwithstanding a “seven-year effort by the Central Intelligence Agency” to keep their own relationship with the Tinners secret.
According to media reports unnamed officials in the George W. Bush administration, which helped bust the Khan smuggling ring, also acknowledged that the Tinners secretly served as double agents for the CIA. In their latter capacity, the New York Times reported last year, the Tinners gave the U.S. spy agency information about Khan’s activities and helped the agency “introduce flaws into the equipment” sold by Khan to other countries.
In pushing forward charges Swiss Magistrate Andreas Müller in December 2010 had attacked his government for having “massively interfered in the wheels of justice by destroying almost all the evidence.” Less attention was however given to allegations of CIA break-ins in Switzerland, and an “unexplained decision by the agency not to seize electronic copies of a number of nuclear bomb designs found on the computers of the Tinner family.”