|NEW YORK, July 27 A fugitive U.S. defense scientist wanted on charges of smuggling nuclear weapons components to Israel is under arrest in Spain, a development that could prove a major embarrassment for both Israel and a billionaire Hollywood producer. Richard Kelly Smyth, a retired 71-year-old aerospace scientist, was arrested July 10 in Malaga and now awaits extradition to the United States.||
SMYTH, A FORMER science adviser to the U.S. Air Force, disappeared in August 1985 after his indictment, leaving federal investigators unable to prove his role in the illegal shipment of 800 nuclear weapons triggers to Israeli companies owned by Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and industrialist with dual citizenship in Israel and Monaco.
Smyth fled the United States five months after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on 15 counts of exporting nuclear arms technology and 15 counts of falsification of documents from 1979 to 1982. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid and the U.S. attorneys office in Los Angeles said Smyth was in a Spanish jail while the United States prepared an extradition package that would take months to complete.
All we can say is that he is in custody in Spain and we are delighted, Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service, when asked about Smyths arrest.
THE HOLLYWOOD CONNECTION
Federal officials have long
sought a way to revisit the case involving Milchan, whose producing
credits include JFK, L.A. Confidential
Brazil, Fight Club, and Pretty
Woman, as well as the Free Willy series and the Fox
television comedy Malcolm in the Middle. The 1985
indictment identified Milchans companies as the recipient of
the nuclear triggers, known as krytrons. Federal authorities told NBC
News in 1993 that Milchan also shared in the profits derived from the
sales. Krytrons, at the time, were considered dual use
components which have other civilian and military applications
requiring export licenses.
Internal documents obtained at that time by NBC News from Milco International Inc., Smyths company, revealed that he had also exported other equipment to Israel, including chemicals used to make missile fuel. Both the krytrons and the chemicals in question are so-called dual use items.
But Smyths disappearance, and the unwillingness of Israeli officials to cooperate with U.S. investigators on the case, left federal authorities unable to proceed. Nowhere, that is, until Smyth turned up in Spain.
U.S. officials say Milchan has
no exposure to any smuggling charge, as the statute of limitations on
conduct dating from before 1982 has expired. However, customs
officials, who requested anonymity, said anyone can be prosecuted for
obstruction of justice if evidence shows that he or she aided or in
any way encouraged Smyth to flee. Because Smyth fled after being
indicted, the smuggling charges against him are still active, and no
statute of limitations applies.
Milchan has denied that he had done anything illegal in interviews with NBC News in 1992 and 1993. Friday, his Los Angeles office said he was traveling and could not be reached for comment in the wake of Smyths arrest.
ANYWAY I CAN HELP ISRAEL, I WILL
However, in interviews with
both 60 Minutes and Los Angeles magazine over the past
year, Milchan was less circumspect. In Los Angeles magazine, he said:
Lets assume that theres nothing that Israel and the
United States do separately. ... Ill say it in my own words. I
love Israel, and any way I can help Israel, I will. Ill do it
again and again.
If you say I am an arms dealer, thats your problem. In Israel, there is practically no business that does not have something to do with defense.
Israel has never publicly admitted that it possesses nuclear weapons. However, U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that Israels arsenal is the fifth largest in the world, with about 200 warheads, behind those of the United States, Russia, France and China.
The Israeli nuclear issue frequently has caused problems for the United States in its efforts to curb the proliferation of nuclear and ballistic missile technology in other regions and to get nations like India, Pakistan and North Korea to adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Arab states, among others, accuse Washington of a double standard for not putting similar pressure on Israel to sign the treaty, which would require declaring the extent of nuclear capabilities and opening nuclear sites to international inspection.
Robert Windrem is an investigative producer at NBC News and co-author with William E. Burrows of Critical Mass: The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World (1994, Simon & Schuster, New York). MSNBCs Michael Moran contributed to this report.