Mitutoyo Corp., a precision instrument maker at the center of an export scam linked to weapons of mass destruction, has exported some 10,000 sensitive devices, most of them illegally, since around 1995 and in the process may have helped North Korea and Iran go nuclear, investigative sources said.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Safety Division is investigating the possibility that some of these instruments were exported to North Korea, Iran and other nations suspected of developing atomic weapons via a nuclear black market formerly run by Pakistani physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the sources said.

In addition, police are investigating suspicions that a Mitutoyo three-dimensional precision measuring machine of a different type that went to Libya via Khan’s smuggling network was exported to an Iranian firm suspected of links to Iran’s nuclear program, they said.

On Aug. 25, police arrested Mitutoyo Vice Chairman Norio Takatsuji, President Kazusaku Tezuka and 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 two 3-D measuring machines was found in a nuclear research facility in Libya by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors during their 2003-2004 checks.

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

Police found that Mitutoyo’s two other precision measuring instruments — a form tracer for measuring the roughness of the surface of products and a roundness tester — were handed over to Scomi Precision Engineering Sdn. Bhd. of Malaysia, which is suspected of being at the core of Khan’s network, the sources said.

Police are probing fresh suspicions that the two devices were exported to Libya as a “three-item set” with one of Mitutoyo’s two 3-D measuring machines, which had been found to have been shipped via Dubai to Libya on an Iranian-registered vessel, they said.

Sources privy to the Public Safety Division probe said Mitutoyo management decided to expand exports in the early 1990s when its sales plunged.

Then its project team developed computer software to make its precision measuring machines appear less accurate than they are in order to bypass Japan’s export regulations on high-tech products convertible for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, the sources said.

Although some Mitutoyo employees alerted management to the illegality of exporting high-performance machines using the software, referred to with the in-house code name “COCOM,” Takatsuji and others silenced the critics, telling them the exports were decided as “a company policy,” they said.

In addition to disguising the precision machines to make them appear to have lower capabilities, Mitutoyo filed export permit applications with customs in which it falsely said their overseas arms were the final destinations of the machines, in order to bypass curbs on exports to countries and firms suspected of developing WMD, they said.

Mitutoyo, based in Kawasaki, is a leading maker of high-tech precision measuring machines and runs a network of subsidiaries, research institutes and factories in more than 20 countries, including the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Takatsuji and Tezuka acknowledged the allegations related to the exports to Malaysia for which they had been arrested, sources said, adding the two executives have denied that management ordered employees to bypass the export curbs.

But a senior Public Safety Division official said it is believed management did issue that order.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.