Two Nepali businessmen once duped US diplomats by offering Uranium deals claimed to have been smuggled from a nuclear facility in India, according to diplomatic cables recently released by Wikileaks.
In September1973, one JC Thakur approached the US Embassy in Kathmandu and claimed that he could deliver 2 to 3 kg of Uranium at $40,000 per kg. The samples of the
purported radioactive element were collected by US Embassy officials and were sent to the US-based Atomic Energy Commission for verification, according to the cables.
A cable forwarded on September 26 that year said Thakur, in a meeting with the embassy officials, expressed willingness to offer samples for analysis and briefly showed them a small amount of a brown substance packed in a small plastic vial. When inquired about the source, he indicated that the uranium would be smuggled out to him from nuclear power facilities in Bombay (present day Mumbai).
A day after the cable detailing Thakur’s attempt to sale the element was forwarded to the State Department in Washington, the US Embassy in New Delhi suggested that the information be shared with the Indian government. The cable dispatched on September 27 asserts that such a move would contribute to the atmosphere of trust and confidence with India for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
A cable later sent by Washington gives a green signal to collect the samples from the traders in Kathmandu. It also instructs the embassy officials to send it to the US through a ‘small diplomatic pouch’ and advises the embassy in New Delhi to use its “discretion” in apprising the Indian government ‘informally of the offer.’ Thakur himself contacts US embassy officials in Kathmandu on October 7 and visits them the next day to hand over the samples. The communiqué notes that in the second meeting, Thakur stressed the need for ‘secrecy,’ saying that the issue is a ‘life or death situation for him and his partner,’ according to the leaked cables. He also says he can provide 5 kg of enriched Uranium per month for $35,000 per kg, a rate cheaper by $5,000 than the one mentioned in the first meeting.
The reply from State Department on October 16 says that the sample was not radioactive, hence it was not likely to be uranium. Before the announcement of the result, the US Embassy in New Delhi informed the Coordination Director of India’s External Affairs Ministry of Thakur and his attempt to sale smuggled uranium.
US diplomats later found out that Thakur was the brother of Prakash Chand Thakur, the former Nepali ambassador to Japan who was recalled for drug abuse, and concluded that the incident was part of an ‘elaborate hoax’ perpetrated on them.
A cable sent from Kathmandu in August 1975 states that Thakur was trying to test the samples for free and ascertain whether Uranium exists in the Nagarjun hills in Kathmandu.
In October 1973, the US embassy in Kathmandu is contacted by another individual named Krishna Tamang who hands over a sample, claiming that he can supply 10 kg of uranium per month for $5,000 a kg. It notes that Tamang was highly nervous in the October 18 meeting and said that he received the substance from his partner in India. Tests of the sample handed over by Tamang confirmed in November that it was not uranium. The State Department in Washington then draws the attention of its embassy in India and Nepal to the matter and asks them not to consider the ‘hoax offers’ but accept samples, if offered. A cable sent from New Delhi in May 1974 quotes the then Indian Minister of State KC Pant as informing the Rajya Sabha that five persons were arrested and 750 grams of yellow powder, said to be uranium but later verified as sulfur, was obtained during a raid in Jamshedpur in South Bihar.
The police action in the state of Bihar reminded the US diplomats in New Delhi of the purported uranium deal of September 1973, who said the ‘silly season’ for uranium deals were yet to be over.
Again in September 1975, Krishna Tamang visited a US Embassy official in Kathmandu and offered two vials of a reddish powdery substance for testing.
Considering Tamang’s old record, both the embassy and the State Department concurred that they would not forward it for testing.
By: Phanindra Dahal (The Kathmandu Post), eKantipur