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Mitutoyo Corp. developed computer software in the early 1990s to make its three-dimensional measuring machines appear less accurate so they could bypass Japan’s export regulations on products that can be used in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, investigative sources said Monday.

Developers of the software and officials of Mitutoyo, which manufactures precision measuring devices, used an in-house code name, COCOM, to refer to the software, the sources at the Metropolitan Police Department said.

COCOM is an acronym for Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, an international accord that put an embargo on Western high-tech exports to Eastern bloc nations. The deal was replaced by the Wassenaar Arrangement in 1995.

The software falsifies numerical figures on the machines’ measurement accuracy. Exports of three-dimensional measuring machines whose capabilities are above government-set limits are banned by Japanese export regulations, as they can be used to help manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

Mitutoyo installed the software in the machines to hide their potential as dual-use products and started exporting them in 1995, the sources said.

Mitutoyo submitted bogus data fabricated with the software to customs officials to make it appear the machines were qualified to clear export restrictions, according to the sources, who are knowledgeable about investigations by the Tokyo police’s Public Safety Division.

The division perceives the use of the code name COCOM as evidence that Mitutoyo executives who spearheaded the software’s development were aware it was illegal to bypass the export curbs using the software, the sources said.

In November 1992, Mitutoyo launched a project team tasked with developing software to circumvent export regulations on such dual-use goods that were stiffened following the 1991 Gulf War. The team also wrote the software to increase exports to China, which was on the COCOM list of countries to which high-tech exports are regulated.

Some Mitutoyo officials alerted management to the illegality of developing such software, but they were silenced by company executives, the sources said.

On Friday, the Metropolitan Police Department arrested Mitutoyo’s current and a former president as well as three other executives on suspicion of illegally exporting two high-tech measuring devices convertible for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons to Malaysia in 2001.

One of the measuring machines was found in a nuclear facility in Libya by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors during their 2003-2004 checks.

The machines can be used to manufacture centrifuge machines to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons by determining their dimensions and minimizing shape distortions with high accuracy. Their export is subject to restrictions under the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law and the Export Trade Control Ordinance.

The machine that ended up in Libya’s hands allegedly traveled via the nuclear black market run by Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

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