BRITAIN’S prime minister sought yesterday to beat back criticism surrounding the release of the Lockerbie bomber, insisting that he gave no assurances to Libya’s leaders that the bomber would be freed in exchange for oil contracts.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he offered no promises to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi over the fate of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Al-Megrahi is the only person convicted of the bombing, which killed 270 people.
“There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to Col Gaddafi,” Brown said. “We made absolutely clear to the Libyans and everybody else that this was a decision for the Scottish government.”
Brown has been deluged with criticism since Scotland freed al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, on compassionate grounds last month. Reporters have dogged his every appearance with questions on the controversy, and his statement followed the release of confidential British documents about discussions regarding al-Megrahi.
Foreign secretary David Miliband confirmed details that emerged in the documents that suggested Britain had not sought to have al-Megrahi serve out his life sentence in a Scottish prison.
“We did not want him to die in prison, no, we weren’t seeking his death in prison,” Miliband said yesterday.
Miliband did not elaborate, but any death in custody might have raised suspicions among some in the Arab world of state involvement in al-Megrahi’s death.
Miliband’s remarks, and the release of the documents on Tuesday, offered the first formal indication of the British government’s thoughts on the release. The government had previously refused to be drawn on the issue, saying it was up to the government in Scotland to decide on its own justice issues.
Al-Megrahi, 57, was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 for the explosion, Britain’s worst terrorist attack. Scotland freed him on compassionate grounds on August 20 after doctors said he had terminal cancer.
Releasing prisoners on compassionate grounds is a regular feature of Scottish justice for dying inmates.
The British government released the documents to quell speculation that it had pushed al-Megrahi’s release to boost economic cooperation with Libya. But the documents fanned more resentment in the United States, where al-Megrahi’s release was vehemently opposed.
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