ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Abdul Qadeer Khan spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy loyalty -- writing checks for anything from seminars to friends' weddings -- in a patronage scheme that allowed him to elude suspicion as head of the world's most successful nuclear black market, senior scientists and government officials told the Associated Press.
Pakistan acknowledged this month that Khan sold high-tech secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. But signs that the grandfatherly engineer was up to something illegal had been around for years.
"If you wrote to him that you wanted to attend a seminar or that your daughter was getting married, he would write back and there would be a check in there for you," Pervez Hoodhboy, a physicist at Islamabad's prestigious Quaid-e-Azam University, said on Monday.
"Sometimes there would be $50,000 or $100,000. He was very generous and he bought a lot of support, so people didn't say anything."
Farhatullah Babar, a senator from the opposition Pakistan People's Party, who was also involved in the nuclear program early in his career, said Khan had almost total control to spend government money, and the secrecy of the nuclear program meant there was no oversight.
"The kind of vast administrative and financial powers, without any check on them, that were given to Dr. A.Q. Khan was unprecedented and unusual," he told AP.
"The powers given to him were so great that he could use the funds however he wanted. ... Whoever has such great powers, it is a normal human failure to abuse them."
Pakistan is believed to have spent $5 billion on its nuclear weapons program, which it launched shortly after the 1971 war with India.
It was not clear how much of the funds were controlled by Khan, but the figures certainly ran into the hundreds of millions.
Khan's supporters insist that he and six other detained nuclear officials have been made scapegoats to cover up government involvement in the nuclear leaks.
Hussam ul-Haq, chairman of the Khan's Release Liaison Committee, which is lobbying on behalf of the detainees, said Monday that the 68-year-old scientist was under immense stress and had suffered a heart ailment over the weekend.