LOS ANGELES, Dec. 30 (JTA) — An American man has pleaded guilty to exporting potential nuclear triggers to Israel. Last Friday, Richard Kelly Smyth, 72, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to illegally shipping some 800 krytrons — two-inch-long glass bulbs whose applications range from high-speed photo copying to nuclear bomb triggers — to Israel in the early 1980s. Israel returned most of the krytrons after Smyth´s 1985 indictment and has maintained that they were never intended for nuclear weapons. Smyth, who skipped bail in 1985, was discovered living in Spain and extradited to the United States in November. Smyth conducted his operations through the Israel-based Heli Trading Corp., which was owned at the time by Arnon Milchan, a 10th-generation Israeli and one-time arms dealer and businessman. Milchan is CEO of New Regency Productions, honorary chairman of the Israeli Film Festival in the United States and producer of such hits as "Pretty Woman," "JFK" and "Under Siege." In an interview with CBS´ "60 Minutes" last year, Milchan denied any role in the krytron case, but acknowledged that he allowed the Israeli government to use Heli as a conduit for trading with the United States. He has not been charged with any offenses. A government source told the Los Angeles Times that the statute of limitations on prosecuting him has probably expired. In the current case, the original 30-count indictment was reduced under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors to one count of violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and one count of lying about the contents of an illegal shipment. Smyth faces a maximum prison term of seven years and a $110,000 fine, with sentencing set for Feb. 28. Smyth´s attorney, James Riddet, has asked U.S. Appeals Court Judge Pamela Rymer to limit the sentence to time already served. In 1985, while first awaiting trial on the krytron charges, Smyth was freed on a $100,000 bond. He disappeared shortly thereafter with his wife, Emilie. The couple reportedly was sighted in Israel, but Emilie Smyth told the Los Angeles Times that she and her husband had lived openly in southern Spain throughout the 16 years. "Richard is a vice president of the American Club in Malaga, and we were registered to vote in the local elections," she said. Smyth´s streak of luck ran out when he filled out an application to open a bank account in Malaga. A check with Interpol turned up an outstanding U.S. arrest warrant.
Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.