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Imhausen-chemie Executive Arrested over Libyan Gas Plant Involvement

The State Department on Thursday welcomed West Germany’s arrest Wednesday of a chemical executive accused of helping Libya build a poison gas plant.

The executive, Juergen Hippenstiel-Imhausen of Imhausen-Chemie, was arrested “on suspicion of violating West German export laws,” The New York Times reported Thursday.

The Times quoted West Germany’s prosecutor in the case, Holger Preisendanz, as saying he “is strongly suspected of having played a significant personal role” in planning and building the Libyan plant in the desert town of Rabta.

Hippenstiel-Imhausen, who is the first person arrested on charges of helping construct the plant, has denied any involvement with the facility, the Times reported.

State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher called the arrest “further indication that the West German government is serious about ending the involvement of German firms in chemical weapons proliferation.”

The State Department has been trying to convince West Germany and other countries to restrict any contacts between their firms and the Libyan plant.

Boucher said Bonn’s investigation into chemical firms with ties to Libya is “active.” He added that the West German parliament is considering new restrictions on chemical exports and activities abroad by German nationals.

“These are positive elements in the worldwide effort to halt assistance to the Rabta facility and to prevent chemical weapons proliferation,” Boucher added.

The Bush administration has asserted that the plant, about 65 miles south of Tripoli, was built to manufacture poison gas. Libya contends that the plant’s purpose is to make pharmaceuticals.

In Zurich, Switzerland, meanwhile, a firm of consulting engineers has withdrawn its offer to participate in the construction of a plant in Iran to manufacture pesticides.

The company, Krebs A.G., acted at the behest of the Swiss Foreign Office. American diplomats had warned Switzerland that the Iranians planned to produce chemical weapons there.

(JTA correspondent Tamar Levy in Geneva contributed to this report.)

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