British foreign secretary brands decision to release Lockerbie bomber "wrong and misguided"

10:59, July 25, 2010      

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Saturday wrote to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al- Megrahi from a prison in Scotland last year was "wrong" and " misguided."

The U.S. Senate will hold an inquiry next week into the release of al-Megrahi, who was freed by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds in August 2009 because it was believed he had only three months to live, and alleged links with BP.

Media on both sides of the Atlantic had speculated in the run- up to British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the United States to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the beginning of this week, that al-Megrahi's release from a life sentence after his conviction for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 had been influenced by lobbying from BP.

BP had secured large fuel exploration contracts from the Libyans in the period before al-Megrahi's release.

Hague wrote: "I believe that the decision to release Mr. Megrahi was a mistake, and I am profoundly aware of the fact that every day this convicted murderer is not serving out his sentence in the Scottish prison adds to the grief and pain of those who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie tragedy."

"At the same time, I believe we have a responsibility to address the unsubstantiated rumors that there was some sort of conspiracy involving BP which led to Mr. Megrahi's release," he added.

The Scottish government, the devolved administration that has responsibility for much policy within Scotland including law and order, courts and prisons, released al-Megrahi, who is the only person to be convicted for the Lockerbie tragedy in which 270 people died, on compassionate grounds after medical experts said he had only three months to live.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond had earlier this week written to the U.S. Senate committee saying his government had not been lobbied by BP over al-Megrahi.

His Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was asked to appear before the committee, as was the Scottish prisons senior medical officer, but the Scottish government refused both requests.

The British government's then justice secretary Jack Straw, who is now the deputy leader of the main opposition Labor party in the British national parliament at Westminster, also received a request to attend, and on Friday refused it.

Straw denied any involvement in the decision to release al- Megrahi, saying it was entirely a Scottish government decision.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with that decision. I saw no papers about it, and was not consulted about it," Straw said.

He continued: "Indeed I was on holiday at the time and only learnt about it from an item on the BBC News website ... It follows from this that I do not see how I could help your committee 'understand several questions still lingering from this decision' as I did not make it, nor have any other locus in it."

"You will therefore excuse me if I do not accept your committee 's kind invitation," he added.

Hague, in his letter, defended both the devolved Scottish government and the main British government from allegations that they had been influenced by BP in the decision to release al- Megrahi.

Hague wrote: "There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegation of BP's involvement in the Scottish Executive's entirely separate decision to release Mr. Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release him on compassionate grounds in order to facilitate oil deals for BP."

"None of our searches of UK Government material to date have produced any record of an attempt by BP to influence either the UK Government or the Scottish executive with regard to Mr. Megrahi's release in 2009," he added.

Britain and Libya had signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) in 2007 and the Scottish government had initially wanted to exclude al-Megrahi from this. Eventually, the main British government won the argument to include him in the PTA.

Hague wrote: "During the several months of discussion in 2007 about Libyan opposition to the possible exclusion clause in the PTA, there were a number of conversations between BP and the then UK Government ... BP had been made aware by the Libyans that failure to agree the PTA could have an impact on UK commercial interests, including the Libyan ratification of the BP exploration agreement signed in May 2007, and wished to bring this fact to the attention of the UK government."

"This was a perfectly normal and legitimate practice for a British company. It is the sort of exchange which occurs regularly around the world," he observed.

The U.S. Senate committee will hold its inquiry next Thursday. BP has suffered severe criticism in the United States since the explosion of one of its exploration oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and led to large-scale pollution of the sea and U.S. coastline in the area.

The disaster became a major domestic political issue, with President Obama criticizing BP, and also overshadowed the bilateral talks earlier this week between Cameron and Obama.

Source: Xinhua


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