British Justice Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged today that the prospect of trade and oil deals with Libya played a part in the UK government’s handling of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Straw said the issue of trade played “a very big part” in his decision to include Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) struck with Libya in 2007.
He cited a lucrative deal which was being sought by British oil giant BP at the time Megrahi was included in the PTA, adding of the trade consideration: “I’m unapologetic about that.”
“Libya was a rogue state,” Mr Straw said. “We wanted to bring it back into the fold. And yes, that included trade because trade is an essential part of it and subsequently there was the BP deal.”
His comments risk reigniting the row over Megrahi’s release, after Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted earlier this week there was “no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil”.
On Wednesday, the premier insisted the dominant factor in the British government’s policy towards Libya was the need to bring the former pariah state on board in the fight against international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and not oil or commercial interests.
Mr Straw said Mr Brown was not involved in the decision to press ahead with the PTA.
In January 2008, just weeks after the PTA was sealed, Libya ratified a £550m (€631m) oil deal with BP.
Megrahi was released last month from a Scottish jail – where he was serving life for the 1988 bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 - on compassionate grounds due to his terminal cancer, and the PTA was not invoked. His return to a hero’s welcome in Tripoli on August 20 sparked revulsion in Britain and the US, where most of the Lockerbie victims lived.
Conservatives have called for an independent inquiry into the handling of Megrahi’s case, with Tory leader David Cameron insisting he should have been allowed to die in jail.
A spokesman for Mr Straw said the Justice Secretary had always made clear that wider considerations such as trade played a part in the negotiation of the PTA.