Transcript: Humayun Khan audio interview
IT WAS NEARLY MIDNIGHT IN CALIFORNIA, MORNING IN PAKISTAN. I'D BEEN TRYING TO CATCH UP WITH HUMAYUN KHAN FOR WEEKS...
Humayun Khan: Hello.
Mark Schapiro: Good morning, Mr. Khan?
Khan: Good morning, yes.
KHAN WAS THE PAKISTANI BUSINESSMAN INDICTED BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT IN ONE OF THE BIGGEST NUCLEAR SMUGGLING CASES IN YEARS. FOR STARTERS, I WANTED TO KNOW HOW KHAN, A MUSLIM IN ISLAMABAD, HAD EVER TEAMED UP IN THIS DEAL WITH ASHER KARNI, AN ORTHODOX JEW WHO OPERATED A HIGH-TECH TRADING FIRM IN SOUTH AFRICA.
Schapiro: How did you find Mr. Karni? How did you end up working with him?
Khan: Surfing through the Web, we came across Eagle Corporation in South Africa...It was very unfortunate that he introduced himself as a Muslim.
Schapiro: Aha, he told you he was a Muslim man?
Khan: Yes, because you see, Mark, I'm sure you must have heard that Asher Karni is a Muslim name. In Pakistan also, I know a few people whose names are "Asher" and "Karni."
I TRIED TO GET HIM TO EXPLAIN HOW THE DEAL WITH KARNI HAD GONE DOWN...
Schapiro: And then you asked him for the triggered spark gaps at that stage?
Khan: No, actually, we did not. We were not dealing in such equipments and we did not ask him for any of such things because you see...if we had wanted such items, and if we had wanted to buy, we would not jeopardize our name, and company name and such a brand name, to go ask in the market openly that we want these things, you know?
HE OFFERED VARIOUS EXPLANATIONS -- AMONG THEM, NOT EVEN BEING IN THE OFFICE WHEN THE NUCLEAR DEAL WAS BROKERED.
Khan: Actually Mark at that period of time when these transactions took place, I mean when my people investigated, I was on leave for about a year and a half. I was not in Islamabad and not in my office because my wife was terminally ill and we were trying to actually save her life. And for a whole one year and a half I was out of my office.
THE EMAIL TRAFFIC BETWEEN KARNI AND KHAN STRETCHED OVER NEARLY SIX MONTHS. THEY WERE ALTERNATELY PURE BUSINESS; SOMETIMES URGENT; OCCASIONALLY EXHIBITING A TWIST OF HUMOR. IN ONE, WHILE OFFERING ADVICE TO KARNI ON HOW TO AVOID EXPORT CONTROLS, KHAN CALLS HIMSELF "THE GURU."
Schapiro: You do sound like quite an expert in the technology. I remember in one of the emails, I think it was in May 2003, you told Mr. Karni that you were the guru. You signed it "guru." Do people call you the guru in Pakistan?
Khan: [laughs] No, I don't, I never write such things. I'm just honored to learn that. I don't, you know, OK, I'm expert in what I sell in my equipment that was electronics. OK, if you sell equipment for such a long time, of course you're an expert on your own product. So, I never ... I don't think I ever wrote such words or things like that.
Schapiro: That's not what it looks like in the correspondence between you...
THE PROBLEM IS THAT OVER SIX MONTHS, KHAN'S NAME IS ALL OVER THOSE EMAILS. IN SOME HE EVEN SIGNS OFF, SIMPLY, "BEST REGARDS, HUMAYU..."
Khan: Yeah, I know. Everything is pointing right at me.... Everybody knew my name. We think we were there at the wrong time. I think I was made a scapegoat.
KHAN WAS ANXIOUS TO CLEAR HIS NAME: IT WASN'T HE WHO IMPORTED THE NUCLEAR TRIGGERS, IT WAS HIS EMPLOYEE, NOW LIVING IN DUBAI -- A MAN NAMED MOHAMMAD ROFFI. AS A MUSLIM, HE WOULD NEVER DO BUSINESS WITH AN ISRAELI. HIS WIFE WAS SICK, HE WAS OUT OF TOWN. THEN AT ONE POINT IN THE CONVERSATION, KHAN SHIFTS GEARS -- AND SEEMS TO ACKNOWLEGE SOME RESPONSIBILITY.
Khan: OK. It was our mistake. I mean we did not know who that person was. If we knew that person, the origin of that person, we would never have done business, let alone a small amount, or millions you know.
THE U.S. GOVERNMENT BELIVES THAT HUMAYUN KHAN, LIKE ASHER KARNI, WAS A MIDDLEMAN. TWO MIDDLEMEN CUTTING THEMSELVES IN ON A DEAL TO SUPPLY NUCLEAR TRIGGERS TO SOMEONE -- KNOW ONE KNOWS FOR SURE WHO. IT WASN'T THE HOSPITAL THAT KARNI CLAIMED WAS THE BUYER. HOSPITALS NEVER ORDER MORE THAN HALF A DOZEN OF THOSE TRIGGERS AT ANY GIVEN TIME. KARNI AND KHAN ORDERED 200. SIXTY-SIX OF THOSE TRIGGERS WERE ULTIMATELY DELIVERED TO KHAN'S OFFICE IN ISLAMABAD. FORTUNATELY THEY'D BEEN DISABLED BY U.S. AGENTS WHO UNCOVERED THE DEAL.
SPECULATION IS THAT KHAN'S CLIENT WAS THE PAKISTANI MILITARY -- WHO HE HAS WORKED WITH BEFORE -- A MILITARY, WHICH POSSESES NUCLEAR WEAPONS. KHAN SCOFFS AT THAT SUGGESTION...
Khan: Pakistan is not a rich country. Not as rich as India or things like that. We just cannot develop 200 bombs or whatever you say. You can imagine yourself that a country like Pakistan cannot develop 200 bombs.
Schapiro: Well, I don't know how many bombs Pakistan has. How many do they have?
Khan: [laughs] That is a good question.
Schapiro: Can you give me an estimate?
Khan: No. [laughs] I don't know. We actually try to stay away from such customers. And the fact...because we had...we did stay away from such customers and such government departments, that is why we survive so long. We don't touch fire [laughs].
THE CONVERSATION CONTINUED; THE DARKER IT GOT IN CALIFORNIA, THE LIGHTER IT GOT IN PAKISTAN. EXPLANATIONS KEPT COMING. FINALLY IT CAME DOWN TO THE ISRAELIS.
Khan: I think now Israel remains a lobby that has always been working against Pakistan -- U.S. relations.
Schapiro: Yes, but even if Asher Karni, excuse me...
Khan: Mark, in Pakistan we believe that Asher Karni is working with an Israeli intelligence and it was all preplanned.
ONE OF THE ODDITIES OF THIS CASE IS THAT THE ORDER FOR THE NUCLEAR TRIGGERS CAME FROM A COMPANY THAT BORE THE INITIALS "AJKMC" -- THE SAME INITIALS AS A MILITANT MUSLIM GROUP IN KASHMIR, WHERE THE TWO NUCLEAR POWERS, INDIA AND PAKISTAN, HAVE BEEN ENGAGED IN A LONG-RUNNING BORDER DISPUTE. THOSE INITIALS LED A U.S. AGENT TO SPECULATE THAT THE TRIGGERS MIGHT HAVE BEEN DESTINED FOR KASHMIRI TERRORISTS.
Schapiro: And who is AJKMC lithography? Who are they? AJKMC?
Khan: I don't know, we never heard of this company. And one very astonishing and funny thing is that I read in your article that they're saying I belong to a militant group, some Kashmir side or thing like that. If you know me, I spend a lot of time in Europe and Southeast Asia, you know. Even I don't call myself a good Muslim because I am not. [laughs] If you knew that, you would laugh at this statement. I mean my lifestyle and living standard is -- it's just European and the Far East. We don't even pray that much. And everyone was laughing that a person like myself would be considered a militant for the Kashmiris and all that. I mean that is unheard of. That is a very, very funny thing.
LAST MARCH, THE COMMERCE DEPARTMENT CUT OFF HUMAYUN KHAN'S COMPANY PAKLAND FROM ALL TRADE WITH THE UNITED STATES. THEN IN APRIL THEY INDICTED KHAN HIMSELF FOR VIOLATING U.S. EXPORT CONTROL LAWS. HE FACES UP TO 35 YEARS IN PRISON. KHAN CONTINUES TO ASSERT HIS INNOCENCE.
Khan: I am only interested in clearing my name.
Schapiro: I understand that.
Khan: I really don't care about what goes on with my country or what goes on with any other thing. I am only concerned because I have to feed my own house and I have to run my own house and my company...If I had done such a thing, or if I had done this, my own people would take such a strong action against me for putting our name out in the world that they would really shut me down and put me away, you know.
THE COMMERCE DEPARTMENT SAYS THAT KHAN'S CASE IS A SENSITIVE ONE, INVOLVING THE GOVERNMENT OF A CLOSE ALLY IN THE WAR ON TERROR. THEY SAY THEY ARE IN "DISCUSSIONS" WITH PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF. AS OF TODAY, KHAN REMAINS A FREE MAN IN PAKISTAN.
THIS IS MARK SCHAPIRO FOR FRONTLINE/WORLD.