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US scientist charged with conspiracy to sell nuclear data to Venezuela

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Friday that a US scientist and his wife have been indicted [text, PDF] for conspiring to sell nuclear weapons information to an individual they believed worked for the Venezuelan government. Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni and his wife, Marjorie Mascheroni, were arrested Friday by the FBI [official website] and appeared [press release] before the US District Court for the District of New Mexico [official website]. The defendants used to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) [official website] and possessed classified nuclear weapons knowledge. According to the indictment, between March 2008 and August 2009, Pedro Mascheroni, who is a naturalized US citizen, negotiated a deal with an undercover FBI agent he believed to be a Venezuelan official in which he would help the country develop a nuclear weapon in exchange for over $700,000. No actual members of the Venezuelan government have been charged in the case. If convicted, the couple faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

There have been several moves toward nuclear non-proliferation [JURIST news archive] worldwide. Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons [JURIST report] in a speech [text] delivered during a visit to the Japanese city of Nagasaki. In his speech, Ban emphasized the importance of eliminating existing nuclear weapons and using political pressure to create stronger nonproliferation treaties. The UN Security Council [official website] voted [JURIST report] in June to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran [press release] for its failure to disband the nation's uranium enrichment program. In April, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedvev [official profiles] signed [JURIST report] the New START Treaty [text, PDF]. Under the terms of the treaty and its protocol [text, PDF], both countries would be allowed only 1,550 strategic warheads worldwide, a decrease from the 2,200 currently permitted.

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