Australia blocks shipment to Pakistan over weapons fears

 Australia has blocked a shipment of scientific equipment to Pakistan over fears it could be used to help build weapons of mass destruction, a spokesman for Defence Minister John Faulkner said Tuesday.

The government used the 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act to stop an Australian company exporting instruments and accessories to a Pakistani firm, he said.

"The minister forms the view, based on advice from the Department of Defence supported by other agencies, that there are unacceptable risks associated with the provision of these goods," the spokesman told AFP.

It is the fourth time the minister has used the little-known act to block a shipment going overseas. On previous occasions, the goods had been destined for Iran or countries deemed at risk of passing them on to Iran.

The government refused to name either the Australian or Pakistani companies involved in the transaction, but The Australian newspaper said the domestic firm was GBC Scientific Equipment.

It said GBC wanted to sell two atomic absorption spectrophotometers, which analyse liquid samples, to a Pakistani engineering firm but had been unable to convince Canberra they could not be used to analyse metals used for centrifuges and missiles.

"They're destroying my company and, more to the point, they've basically moved my thoughts to forget about Australia," the company's managing director Ron Grey told the paper.

"Basically, you've got a whole lot of overpaid public servants and their job is to screw up one of Australia's few export industries," he said.

Faulkner said while he was aware of the commercial impact his decision would have on the company, the firm had been consulted throughout the process.

"I want to make clear, there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the Australian company," the minister told the newspaper.

Australia normally blocks the sale of dangerous goods or items to suspect nations via the Customs Act, but the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act is used as a catch-all when this legislation does not apply.

GBC is a major manufacturer of high-tech analytical instruments. It could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Source: AFP

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