A review of US government records found no information about BP seeking to secure the release of the Lockerbie bomber, a State Department official said today.
The official made the comment at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is investigating whether the British-based oil company had sought the release of Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to help get a $900m (€660m) exploration agreement with Libya off the ground.
In prepared testimony, Nancy McEldowney, a principal deputy assistant secretary, said the department has “not identified any materials, beyond publicly available statements and correspondence, concerning attempts by BP or other companies to influence matters” related to al-Megrahi’s release.
BP has acknowledged that it had urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it did not specify al-Megrahi’s case.
He served eight years of a life sentence for the December 21, 1988, bombing, which killed all 259 people on board, mostly Americans, and 11 people on the ground.
Scotland’s government released the cancer-stricken man on compassionate grounds last year and he returned to Libya, outraging people on both sides of the Atlantic.
McEldowney noted that in 1998, the US and Britain wrote a letter to the secretary-general of the United Nations, outlining an agreement for al-Megrahi and another suspect, Amin Khalifa Fhimah, to be tried before a Scottish court established in the Netherlands.
Al-Megrahi was convicted but Fhimah was acquitted. The letter stated, “If found guilty, the two accused will serve their sentence in the United Kingdom.”
She said that back then, the US sought binding assurances that would happen, but the British countered that they could not legally bind the hands of future governments.
“They nonetheless assured us of their political commitment that, if convicted, al-Megrahi would remain in Scotland until the completion of his sentence,” McEldowney said.
Bruce Swartz, deputy assistant attorney general, said that both the Justice and State Departments stressed that al-Megrahi serve his full sentence in Scotland from the very beginning.
“This was one of the earliest issues raised by the United States in connection with the negotiations for a trial before a Scottish court in the Netherlands, and the United States continued to raise it following Megrahi’s conviction and incarceration,” he said in prepared testimony.
Today’s hearing was originally scheduled for July, but senators postponed it when they could not get the man they wanted to testify – outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward. The company instead offered up a regional vice president for Europe.
In a letter to Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez this week, Hayward reiterated that BP had no involvement in al-Megrahi’s release, and that “no BP witness nor document” could shed any light on the issue.
Menendez represents New Jersey, where many of the crash victims had lived.