CAIRO, (Reuters) – Egyptian authorities have charged a nuclear engineer at the state’s Atomic Energy Agency with spying for Israel, along with two fugitive foreigners — an Irishman and a Japanese, a government statement said on Tuesday.
Mohamed Sayed Saber Ali, 35, is suspected of taking documents from his workplace at Inshas, site of one of Egypt’s small research nuclear reactors, and handing them over to his foreign contacts for $17,000, prosecutor Hesham Badawi said.
Egyptian security officials arrested Ali on Feb. 18 when he arrived at Cairo airport from one of several trips to Hong Kong, where he had meetings with his contacts, the statement said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: “We have no direct information whatsoever about this affair.” “All too often, these sort of stories are circulated in Cairo and they always prove to be totally baseless.”
Egyptian trials of suspected spies for Israel have often soured relations between Israel and Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state.
The Egyptian statement named the Irishman as Brian Peter and the Japanese man as Shiro Izo. They told Ali at one meeting in Hong Kong that they wanted him to work for their company from inside the Atomic Energy Agency, it said. “The first accused (Ali) said that he understood from the course of this meeting that the company referred to was no more than a front for the activity of Israeli intelligence,” it said.
At a later meeting in Hong Kong in December 2006, Ali gave Peter documents containing secret information about the agency and the nuclear reactor at Inshas, it said.
Ali graduated from Alexandria University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering and obtained a diploma in nuclear reactor physics from Cairo University in 1999, Badawi told a news conference. He got a job at the Atomic Energy Agency in 1997 and went to the Israeli embassy in Cairo in May 1999 to ask for a grant to study nuclear engineering at Tel Aviv University.
The visit aroused the suspicions of Egyptian authorities, who told Ali not to go to the embassy without informing his superiors at work, the statement said.
The statement said Ali’s contacts were interested in information about the capability of the Inshas reactor, how many hours it operated, the type of experiments conducted with it, any technical problems with the reactor and reasons for them. They also wanted to know how frequently the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspects the reactor.
Egypt’s reactors are under IAEA supervision and the U.N. agency has had no serious complaints about Egyptian compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Egypt dropped plans for nuclear power stations in the 1980s but the government last year announced plans to take another look at nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels.
An Egyptian man with Canadian citizenship is on trial in Cairo in a separate case of alleged spying for Israel. He denies the charges and says a confession was forced out of him.
In 1996, Egypt sentenced Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Arab textile worker, to 15 years in jail for spying for Israel. Egyptian authorities said Azzam had passed messages in women’s underwear using invisible ink.
Both Azzam and Israel had denied the charges. He was released after eight years as part of a deal that included the release of six Egyptian students held in Israel.