Interview with Garry Cordukes
Garry Cordukes was director of International Aluminium Supply. He liaised with AT&C, the Jordanian purchasers of the tubes, and arranged the shipping of the tubes from China to Jordan. His information also helped US authorities to intercept the tubes in Jordan. This interview took place on 19 October, 2003 at Tai Shan City in Guangdong province, China.
The following is an edited interview transcript. Due to the possibility of mis-hearing, the ABC cannot vouch for its accuracy.
Could you say just how your company became involved in the shipment of the tubes to Jordan?
Yeah well there's a forum on the internet that's called the Aluminet Forum and this is a world-wide aluminium forum that's used by the aluminium industry and you get queries from all over the world - people enquiring about supply, people trying to source machinery, and our company used to monitor this site every couple of weeks and occasionally we'd pick up a client from it, and I think it was early December 2000 - there was a request on there from a company in Jordan wanting to purchase a certain type of aluminium tube, so we responded and informed them that our Chinese plant could probably produce the tube.
How big tubes are we talking about?
The tube was probably about, once again I'm going off memory here, but I think it was roughly a hundred millimetre diameter - something like that.
Did you have any inkling that they could possibly be going to use to enrich uranium so that Saddam Hussein could make a bomb?
None whatsoever - none, none whatsoever. I mean extrusion by nature produces thousands of different types of shape, we asked this company what the tubes were used for and their comments were that they were going to be re-machined to be used as flanges and sump pulleys, we didn't research that or question it - we simply accepted that. Keep in mind this was from a Jordanian company not an Iraqi company, and perhaps it was our naivety that our understanding was that Jordan was an ally of the US and Australia and we obviously didn't see that there'd be any problem with it.
In effect then you had no suspicions at all that they were going to go to Iraq...
None - none whatsoever at the time.
Tell us about finding out that something was a bit different with this shipment?
OK - I guess it was in either April or May 2001 and I got a phone call in our Sydney office from a gentleman who said he represented the Australian Defence Department and he would like to come and have a chat with me. He duly did so, and informed me that there was some possibility that the material being sent to Jordan could be forwarded onto Iraq and used for military purposes.
Did you get any inkling at the time from Chinese authorities that something was amiss?
At the time, nothing whatsoever. There was no communication with the Chinese authorities at all. Keep in mind that my position in this was an agent - a sales agent for the Chinese extrusion mill, so I wasn't privy to the day-to-day communications that the mill was involved in. But they certainly didn't indicate to me that there was any communication from the Chinese government at all, and I had no reason to disbelieve that.
Now there is a story about how at one stage you had overtures by the Chinese government that came and told your factory about the tubes and...
Ah what had happened - after I was approached by the Australian Defence Department, they asked me if I could get them a sample of this tubing, and so I said Yes, I'll be going to China next week and I'll bring you back a sample. I did ask them if there was anything else they wanted us to do, and the comment was oh not really we'll get back to you. So I duly went to China and brought back a sample of the tube - or I think perhaps two samples, I don't recall, and I was met at Sydney airport by a gentleman holding up a sign with my name on and I handed over the tubes and that was the end of that, but obviously by this stage we were quite nervous about the situation.
And the Chinese - the story about how you had an ashen-faced man come into the office and say look this is actually quite serious...
Well what'd happened, after we had heard from the Defence Department, I passed this information onto the Chinese extrusion mill, and they'd actually had great difficulty producing this tube and keep in mind the order was for 60,000 pieces, and by May they'd only been able to produce 2,000 pieces. We did delay, and I recall at one stage I actually made a phone call to the guy from the Australian Defence Department, because I really wanted to find out whether there'd been any further developments and you know we didn't want to get involved in anything that was shonky. That call was never returned. So what happened was eventually the... Chinese extrusion mill decided to ship the first container, containing 2,000 pieces, and two or three days after that shipment left the plant, the Chinese informed me that they'd received the phone call from the Chinese government - the content of that phone call was basically that the UN had approached the Chinese government and informed them that this tube was being produced in Southern China, informed them that it was going to be trans-shipped from Jordan to Iraq and that it should be stopped. Now the Chinese government immediately passed this on to the Chinese mill - keep in mind this is two or three days after the shipment had left and, and that's really the first time that we knew this was serious, you know so upon receiving that phone call, the Chinese mill informed the government that the container had left two or three days before, and the Chinese government apparently told the extrusion mill that they'd been informed by the UN that they knew to the minute when the container had left the factory - that obviously surprised us. Having said that we presented to the Chinese government all of the shipping company details, we informed them that the ship had just left and from the mill's point of view they then didn't issue the original bill of loading to the buyer, which meant he couldn't clear the goods when and if they did arrive in Jordan, and our mill proceeded them to scrap any of the other material that they had produced, and that was the end of the story.
To what extent did the United Nations say the US was prepared to go to "x" length to stop the shipment?
You really would need to ask someone in the Chinese government. I'm presenting this to you in real terms, third hand, as it was passed onto me by the management of the Chinese mill at the time. I'm giving you what was told to me and that was that the United Nations was approaching the Chinese government on behalf of the US and the US Government was prepared to take whatever action necessary to prevent the shipment reaching Jordan.
And that includes military action?
Well I can't answer that - I have no idea.
How much did the Americans know, and how do you think they found out?
Oh - once again I'd have to say to you - you'd have to ask the US Government. I don't know, obviously all I know is that the Australian Defence Department was aware of it before it left China.
In terms of the detail that Australian intelligence knew - I mean you said down to the minute when the ship left?
No well we didn't get that information until after the shipment had left, and that information comes from the Chinese Government - not the Australian.
But how remarkable is the fact that they knew that information?
Well it's obviously quite amazing from our perspective, but you know once again I've really got no comment on that.
At that time did you even know what time it'd left the...
Had no idea - as I say keep in mind I repeat again - my role was as a sales agent. I would accept enquiries, pass them onto the plant, they would assess whether they could produce or not and do costings, etc.
Could you talk me through again what steps the company took once you realised that something was amiss?
OK well firstly the first indication that there was anything unusual about this order was when I was approached by the Australian Government. Now the only thing that surprised me was that the guy that came and saw me was - that whilst he was a nice young fellow, he was obviously a message boy - that within itself made me rather cynical. I would've thought if this was a serious issue that, that they would've requested our assistance to do what we could to stop production of this material, which of course we would've because you know we're a commercial entity and we certainly wouldn't want to be involved in, what this has turned into. So that was the first hint that we had that there was something wrong. Now on the basis that there was probably three to four weeks went by after this visit from the Defence department in Australia before anything further happened, we assumed that, as the guy said to me, this material may be used for improper purposes. It was going to Jordan, not to Iraq, so from our point of view, my comment to the mill was we probably just should desist and forget it, obviously they're a commercial entity, nobody had spoken to them directly about it, so they decided to ship the first 2,000 pieces, and it wasn't until after that shipment had left that they were contacted by their government officials… My view is that the Chinese Government certainly did what they should've done just as soon as they were made aware of it. They appeared to have got straight onto the Chinese extrusion mill and explained the situation and said it'd be a very good idea if you stopped production and didn't ship.
So in terms of like how many times then you had contact with Australian officials about this...
Twice - for the initial visit, a second visit where the guy asked if we could supply the sample and then of course the third contact was at Sydney airport, but there was no communication - it was simply hand over the tube and I think the only comment was thank you and end of story.
So virtually you were told to meet this fellow at the airport, hand over the material and that was it, on your way?
As I said I asked several times, do you want us to do anything else here, or is this a problem, and it was really, well it's not really in your hands now and that was the end of the story. I was just surprised that the initial contact was probably three to four weeks before the shipment left China. It would've appeared to me that there was ample time for them to communicate and prevent it leaving.
Were you ever worried at any stage that you might be charged or arrested about this?
No, none whatsoever - we hadn't done anything, we'd simply taken an order from a client - the client had put his letter of credit in place, he'd been advertising for the product on an international website that's used by, you know reputable extruders all around the world, so from our point of view it was simply another commercial transaction.
In your dealings with the Australian government, it was more the sense that they were interested in the shipment but there were no specifics...
Correct, correct, they'd expressed interest, their comments were may be used for illegitimate purposes and we would've cooperated in any way - as we did - we promptly returned the samples to them, but once again I repeat keep in mind, well it wasn't really my decision to make whether this material would've or could've shipped, but certainly, you know the Chinese extruders were astute enough to understand that if it was a problem they would've ceased production, but that message wasn't given to them until after the first partial shipment had left. As soon as they were informed they immediately did what you or I would do, and that is cease doing the business - that was a natural reaction.
And would you have thought that if it was incredibly serious, that in your contacts with the Australian government, they would've said stop, and stop right now?
Well I would have assumed so.
What was your reaction then just seeing the tubes two years later on US television?
I guess I have to say I was rather astounded and bemused. We were very surprised because from our point of view as I say there was 2,000 pieces produced and shipped out of a 60,000 piece order - based on the information that was then provided, and that is that obviously the US officials and the United Nations were aware of the shipping details and the ship it was on, on the basis that it's at least a four week shipping time from Hong Kong to Jordan, and also based on the fact that the Chinese extruders didn't issue the bill of lading to allow the buyer to clear it, I could not see how this material could've reached the buyer. I would assume that it was intercepted somewhere, be it in Singapore when the ship perhaps called in there, or if not at port in Jordan, by the appropriate authorities... From our point of view, we weren't aware that there was a problem with Jordan - I assumed that Jordan was an ally of the US, and I would've thought that they'd have control of what goes in and out of their country. So keep in mind from our point of view this was a normal, commercial transaction; it was a Jordanian trading company that'd placed the order, I've seen this company on this same website, you know advertising, seeking all types of other products that would obviously be innocuous. There was no subterfuge about it... it seemed to me to be a rather strange way to source illegitimate product... to do it on a public website. So you know for us it was quite simply a commercial transaction to Jordan. I mean we're not stupid. If the request had've come from Iraq, then obviously we'd consider that very sensitive and it's not the sort of area we'd want to be involved in.
What was the conversation involving the use of the name Kamel?
Well when the Australian Defence Department guy visited me, one of his comments was "Are you aware that the name Kamel is Saddam Hussein's family name?" and my obvious answer was no - I had no idea, is it? But that was really the extent of that conversation.
Tell me about the first meeting you had.
He visited my Sydney office. When the initial call came we had no idea what it was about - the guy simply ring up and said can I come and see you, and he made an appointment for a couple of days later, which once again indicated there was no great urgency in the matter, and we weren't aware of what he wanted until he arrived.
About how long did you chat?
Half an hour.
What sort of things did he ask you?
Well basically you know were we aware that this product could be used for, you know illegitimate purposes, discussed the fact that it was possibly going to be shipped from Jordan to Iraq, you know he wanted to know details of how we sourced the order and just a general conversation about it, as I said he then made a call a few days later and asked if we could meet; when we met he asked if I could get him a sample, I told him yes, and that was really the end of the communications.
What's the experience been like for you?
Well you know really until, till I was contacted by your program, we still didn't understand the significance of this. I mean from our point of view we understood there was a problem with the product once the mill was contacted by the Chinese government. Prior to that our communications with the Australian Government indicated that they were perhaps investigating this product, but on the basis that at no stage did they come back to us and request further action, we assumed that that was the end of the matter, and then once of course the shipment left and the Chinese Government passed on the message to stop production and we did that... we assumed that was the end of the matter until such time as the Iraq war started, which was what, 18 months after all these events, and we saw this particular tube held up on TV. So we were rather flabbergasted, but even then we thought oh well from our point of view it's really got not too much to do with us. We've done everything we could do and that was the end of the story.
Well did it make you go back and think about the seriousness with which the Australian Defence people addressed this matter?
At the end of the day I don't know what the Australian Defence Department did or didn't know, I don't know whether they were just making initial enquiries. As I said my assumption - as yours would be, was that if it was a serious matter they would've requested you know us to perhaps ask the Chinese mill to cease production. At no stage did they do that - not that I was in a position to tell the Chinese extruders what to do or not do, but you know once again they're a fair and reasonable people and they're a commercial entity and they would not want to be involved in this as I didn't want to be. But at no stage until the first shipment had left, was there any indication that anybody didn't want this shipment to go.
Does it all feel now a bit like a...?
A Robert Ludlum novel I think. It seems that way and you know, it's put us in an unpleasant position. We wouldn't want to be seen to be supplying anything I think like any decent human being you know we don't like terrorism, we don't like wars and you know from out point of view it's not something we'd want to be involved in. Certainly with the company I work with now, we wouldn't supply this type of material whether it was to Iraq, Australia or anybody else. I mean it's not the sort of stuff we want to be involved in. You know there are government facilities all around the world that can produce what they need for their warfare, and we certainly don't want to play. So for us it was a real shock and not a comfortable position to be obviously... It's a pity that Four Corners is the one that has to tell me how serious this is because you know obviously steps could've been taken to try to right at the outset to prevent this material even being produced. Mind you I might add that there are you know mills all around the world capable of producing it, and it would appear to me that, you know I don't know the history of the company that ordered it from us, you know we don't do detailed background checks of buyers of extrusion, but it would appear to me that the guy was either just an agent or he was an idiot because he was sourcing the stuff on very, very public forums, you know. So how the Australian and US Governments became aware of it - I don't know whether they monitor these sites, whether they monitor LCs at banks. I will say that the letter of credit that the Jordanians put in place to the purchase was done through the Philadelphia Investment Bank in Jordan via the Bank of New York, you know in Shanghai, so whether government authorities monitor these things, I don't know - I've got no idea.
What was the response of the guy that asked for the order once it became clear that he wasn't going to get it?
Well he obviously wasn't very happy. You know there was a fair bit of friction after he placed the order and put the LC in place because he'd you know placed his order mid-January you know for 60,000 pieces, but with production difficulties with the product, as I say it was nearly the end of May before we were in a position to even ship 2,000 pieces. But what'd happened when we finally got word from the government I rang this guy immediately and I said well look, you've dropped us in it here, it would appear that this material's going to be used for improper purposes, we won't be sending you the original shipping documents and we won't be producing any more material. He asked why, and I informed him that we'd been told that this you know material was going to be used for some sort of military purpose. He then said well look I can give you the name of the company that's going to machine this material for flanges and he then proceeded to give me the name of a Canadian company... they sent us some hand-drawn sketches showing you know flanges and pulleys stating they were going to machine these drawings - didn't make sense to us, but apart from that from our point of view it was all over - we weren't going supply no matter what it was used for now. I then didn't hear from the Jordanian guy until probably a week after September 11th when I actually then got a phone call at home which was rather abusive and I think his parting words were I hope you die soon, so that wasn't a real pleasant phone call to receive a week or so after September 11th. So he was obviously upset - but I might add that since then I have seen this same guy attempting to source products on the same website up until probably six months ago.
So the same material that he wanted to...
Oh no, no - just you know various types of aluminium products. My assumption still remains that you know the guy's some sort of trader.
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