Bulgarian Weekly Examines 1999 HEU Smuggling Case

Abstract:

This article analyzes the Bulgarian investigation into the 29 May 1999 seizure of 10g of HEU on the Bulgarian-Turkish border (see abstracts 19990470, 20000080, and 20000750 for earlier reports related to this incident).   The article summarizes the  incident, including some new information not contained in previous media accounts.  Customs officers seized a metal container marked "10.0 g" from the car of Hanifi Okzan, a Turkish national who was crossing the Turkish-Bulgarian border en route to Moldova. During a routine examination of the car, the officers discovered two certificates in Russian, one relating to a shipment of uranium, the other to a consignment of "red mercury." When questioned about the certificates, Okzan disclaimed any knowledge of them, and said he did not know how they had come to be in his car. The customs officials then launched a more complete search of the car, and discovered the metal container concealed inside an electrical compressor in the trunk. Okzan then tried to bribe the customs officials, who refused his money and instead arrested him. During subsequent questioning, Okzan, who had been living in Tiraspol, Moldova, said that a Ukrainian acquaintance, whom he identified only as Igor, had given him the material, and asked him to sell it in Turkey for $400,000.  Okzan then transported the material to Turkey, where he was instructed to meet with potential buyers in Ankara. When the buyers did not show up as scheduled, Okzan decided to return to Moldova, leading to his arrest on the Bulgarian-Turkish border. The article notes that according to Bulgarian law, the trafficking of small quantities of uranium is not a serious offense, and a Bulgarian court later released Okzan after sentencing him to a fine of 2,000 Bulgarian lev (about $900 at the December 2000 exchange rate) and two years probation. The article adds that Okzan "mysteriously" disappeared shortly after his release, and cites "unconfirmed reports" that he later died in a car accident in Moldova. The article notes that after the incident, the US Embassy in Bulgaria requested that the material seized be sent to the US for analysis.  The Bulgarian government agreed, and the material was dispatched to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on 24 February 2000. The article reported that the results of the analysis showed the material to be highly-enriched uranium, containing 76 percent U-235.  The results of the analysis reportedly "disturbed" the US scientists, who had "never seen a substance with similar isotope composition and ingredients."  The US analysis did conclude, however, that "the capsule originated in Russia," and that "the nuclear material in the capsule was prepared in a highly professional facility."  The article also cited a Bulgarian expert who said "this was probably Russian-made nuclear fuel that could also be used to make a bomb." After reporting these results of the analysis, the article confusingly added that the United States had not yet sent the results of the analysis to the Bulgarian Committee on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy. The article also questions why the material was sent to the United States for analysis, arguing that adequate facilities exist in Bulgaria, and noting that Bulgaria also has a cooperation agreement with the Institute for Transuranium Elements in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The article also says that based on the 1999 incident, the United States is carrying out an investigation into a uranium and plutonium trafficking route from Ukraine through Bulgaria to Turkey and Iraq.  It said some analysts believe that the incident may have been a probe, as part of an effort to develop a nuclear smuggling route through Bulgaria, although it admitted that this hypothesis "remained unproven." 

Abstract Number:  20000880
Headline:  Bulgarian Weekly Examines 1999 HEU Smuggling Case
Date:  8 December 2000
Bibliography:   FBIS Document EUP20001208000006
Author:   Mariya Nikolaeva
Orig. Src.:   168 Chasa (Sofia), 8 December 2000, pp. 19, 22 
Material:   HEU

December 8, 2000
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This article is part of a collection examining reported incidents of nuclear or radioactive materials trafficking in or originating from the Newly Independent States.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.