BRITAIN has released documents detailing confidential exchanges over the Lockerbie bomber’s release – letters it hoped will end speculation that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s freedom was used to sweeten economic and political deals between Libya and Britain.
But the documents are more likely stir more anger in the US, which was opposed to freeing al-Megrahi all along.
The letters show that British authorities deferred to Scotland on whether to release the only man convicted in the 1988 airline bombing, but those same officials also repeatedly stressed the importance of growing British -Libyan interests.
Al-Megrahi, 57, was convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people – many of whom were American college students returning for Christmas.
Scotland freed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds on August 20 after doctors said he had three months to live due to advanced prostate cancer.
As the British and Scottish governments released more than a dozen documents, Libya celebrated the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought Col Muammar Gaddafi to power – an extravaganza meant to celebrate the return of the former pariah state into the international fold after terrorism.
British talk shows last night buzzed with suggestions that al-Megrahi’s release was no co-incidence ahead of Gaddafi’s lavish celebrations and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The released letters from 2007 to 2009 showed that British officials warned Scotland that excluding al-Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement could damage British Libyan relations.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw wrote to his Scottish counterpart Kenny MacAskill in July 2007 that it would be possible to exclude al-Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement – which would have eliminated one of the ways al-Megrahi could have been freed if he had not become sick. But Straw later changed his view, writing on February 11, 2008, that he opposed excluding al-Megrahi from such a release.
“Developing a strong relationship with Libya, and helping it to reintegrate into the international community, is good for the UK,” Straw said in that letter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. “Libya is one of only two countries to have ever voluntarily and transparently dismantled its weapons of mass destruction program. Having sponsored terrorist attacks in the past, it is now an important partner in the fight against terrorism.”
Straw then stressed the importance of the prisoner transfer agreements but said ultimately such a release – which could have seen al-Megrahi being transferred to a jail in Libya – would be up to Scotland.
“I do not believe that it is necessary, or sensible, to risk damaging our wide ranging and beneficial relationship with Libya by inserting a specific exclusion into the PTA (prisoner transfer agreement),” Straw wrote.
Washington reacted to the disclosure, saying it had disagreed with Scotland’s decision to return al-Megrahi to Libya.
“It won’t be the first disagreement we’ve had with a close ally and it won’t be the last,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.
The releases follow claims in the British press that the British government struck a deal with Libyan authorities to include al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement because that was in Britain’s best interests at a time when a major oil deal was being negotiated.
Britain has growing economic interests in Libya – from oil exploration to financial services. Last year, British imports from Libya topped some £1 billion (€1.13bn).
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