Three Swiss engineers _ a father and his two sons _ have been charged with breaking arms export laws by aiding a Pakistani-led nuclear smuggling ring that supplied Libya's atomic weapons program, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The formal indictment follows almost a decade of politically charged investigation by Swiss authorities that lifted the veil on one of the most successful international intelligence operations to stop nuclear proliferation to rogue states.
Urs Tinner, 46, his brother Marco, 43, and their father Friedrich, 74, are accused of providing technology and know-how to the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, the federal prosecutors office in Bern said in a statement.
The A.Q. Khan smuggling ring sold key equipment such as centrifuges for uranium enrichment to various countries until its operations were disrupted in 2003.
Prosecutors said the Tinners have agreed to ask for a shortened legal procedure, under which defendants admit the basic charges against them but face no more than five years in prison.
If judges at the Federal Criminal Tribunal agree, politically sensitive aspects of the investigation likely won't be publicly aired as further evidence gathering _ and therefore cross-examination _ would be excluded in court.
An unidentified fourth defendant who prosecutors said played a subordinate role will be charged in a separate legal proceeding with breaking Swiss arms exports laws.
Prosecutors said in their statement the question of the Tinners' cooperation with the CIA remains unresolved, because the Swiss government has denied a request to open a criminal investigation into the issue.
Lawyers representing the Tinners didn't immediately respond to emails and telephone calls requesting comment.
Urs Tinner, who was released on bail in December 2008 after almost five years in investigative detention, claimed in a 2009 interview with Swiss TV station SF1 that he had tipped off U.S. intelligence about a delivery of centrifuge parts meant for Libya's nuclear weapons program. The shipment was seized at the Italian port of Taranto in 2003, forcing Libya to admit and eventually renounce its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The CIA has declined to comment on the Tinner case. But the agency has said in the past that "the disruption of the A.Q. Khan network was a genuine intelligence success, one in which the CIA played a key role."
A book by U.S. investigative reporters Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins backs Urs Tinner's claim that he was recruited by the CIA as early as 2000.
In 2007, the Swiss government ordered evidence in the case destroyed, citing national security concerns. The decision prompted outrage in Switzerland and accusations that the government had acted under pressure from Washington.
Prosecutors said they were able to recover copies of some of the files, but others _ including all electronic records _ have been "definitively lost."