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Gulf oil spill: BP Lockerbie conspiracy accusations to be aired

July 15, 2010 |  4:13 pm

U.S. Senators will examine whether a lucrative oil deal between BP and Libya played a role in the release from a Scottish prison of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber of a Pan Am flight that crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people.  

California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein called for an investigation Thursday. Hours later, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced it will hold a hearing into the circumstances of al-Megrahi's so-called compassionate release, amid reports that the prisoner may not have been as ill as depicted by officials at the time of his release.

Days after al-Megrahi arrived in Libya, BP signed a lucrative contract to explore and develop oil prospects off the African nation's coast.

Nigel Sheinwald, Britain's ambassador to Washington, wrote to Kerry on Thursday, saying the release was a "mistake," but denying any connection between the release and an oil deal between BP and Libya:

I am writing to you about continuing speculation in the media over the circumstances in which the Scottish Executive decided last year to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds. While only the Scottish Executive is able to provide the full details, I wanted to write to you to explain the facts as understood by the British Government.

First, the view of the new British Government is that Megrahi's release was a mistake. As the Prime Minster's spokesman said today, "the Prime Minister at the time said that he believed the decision to release Megrahi was wrong, and that he understood the concerns that had been raised about it."

The British Government deeply regrets the continuing anguish that his release on compassionate grounds has caused the families of Megrahi's victims in the UK as well as in the US.

However under UK law, where Scottish justice issues are devolved to Scotland, it fell solely to the Scottish Executive to consider Megrahi's case. Under Scottish law, Megrahi was entitled to be considered for release on compassionate grounds. Whilst we disagreed with the decision to release him, we have to respect the independence of the process. As the Inquiry by the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament concluded in February, the Scottish Executive took this decision in good faith, on the basis of the medical evidence available to them at the time, and due process was followed.

I am troubled by the claims made in the press that Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP, and that the medical evidence supporting his release was paid for by the Libyan government. Both of these allegations are untrue. The British Government worked with British business to promote legitimate commercial interests with Libya, as we do with many other countries. But there was no link between those legitimate commercial activities and the Scottish Executive’s decision to release Megrahi. And as the Scottish Executive has stated, the prognosis issued by the doctor quoted recently in the press (Karol Sikora) did not feature in their consideration of Megrahi's case. He was released on compassionate grounds based on medical advice from other doctors that he had three months to live. This is common practice in the Scottish legal system.

I fully understand the concerns expressed by your colleagues in the Senate over Megrahi's case. The families of a great many American and British victims continue to suffer as a result of this terrorist atrocity. However, we have to accept that there is now no mechanism for requiring a person who has been released on compassionate grounds to be returned to prison if they have survived for longer than the prognosis at the time.

I hope that this letter helps to set the record straight and correct inaccuracies which are harmful to the UK. I and my staff are available to discuss this in greater detail should you find this helpful.

The committee will examine the matter July 29.

-- Richard Simon in Washington and Geoff Mohan in Los Angeles.