Moldova Police Break Up Uranium Smuggling Ring


"Criminal gang attempts to sell 1.8 kg. of highly radioactive uranium."

Police in the impoverished former Soviet republic of Moldova have broken up a criminal gang attempting to sell 1.8 kg. of highly radioactive uranium that could have been used to build a dirty bomb.

Detectives said they received a tip-off last month that the group were seeking a buyer for the uranium-238. The smugglers—three of whom had previous convictions for uranium dealing in Moldova, Romania and Russia—were demanding €9m (£7.4m).

Undercover officers posing as potential customers met the gang, who had been storing the uranium at a garage in the capital, Chisinau, said Colonel Chiril Motspan, a spokesman for the interior ministry.

The officers asked for several samples and tests conducted in the United States confirmed it was uranium-238. The material was not enriched and could not have been used in a nuclear weapon, but it was sufficient to have been turned into a devastating dirty bomb, a nuclear expert with Greenpeace said today.

Two former policemen and another man were arrested on 20 July, Motspan said. Police recovered pistols, a grenade, tax records and hundreds of Kalashnikov rounds from the scene.

"Our officers worked superbly. They had to pass themselves off as buyers. This was very dangerous, very professional work," Motspan said.

The uranium had been smuggled into Moldova but he did not say where from. Moldovan law enforcement officers have now sent the uranium to a German nuclear laboratory to establish its country of origin.

Television footage screened in Moldova yesterday showed armed officers arresting two suspects as they sat in their car and handcuffing them as they lay on the ground.

The officers used Geiger counters to confirm high levels of radioactivity in the front seats. Officials said the counters registered 1500 microroentgens per hour—well above the accepted limit of 25.

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