A Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland was released from prison following threats to British business interests, US State Department documents released by WikiLeaks reveal.
While the Scottish government claims Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, known as the Lockerbie bomber, was freed on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from terminal cancer, many have speculated that BP pressured Britain to free him to protect a 2007 oil exploration deal with Libya valued at $900 million.
British cancer specialists who were involved in the treatment of al-Megrahi, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for killing 270 people, said they were not consulted about his condition before his release.
Leaked US diplomatic cables, released Tuesday night by WikiLeaks, show that the United Kingdom was warned of “enormous repercussions” for UK-Libyan trade deals if al-Megrahi was not released.
Libyan officials warned that “consequences for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship would be ‘dire’ were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison,” a leaked cable notes. “Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all UK commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official UK facilities.”
In addition, General Qadhafi’s son “linked Megrahi’s release to UK business contracts, asserting that Megrahi’s case was raised during all negotiations of UK-Libya commercial, oil, and gas deals.”
“Saif al-Islam implied that former UK PM Tony Blair had raised Megrahi with the Libyan leader in connection with lucrative business deals during Blair’s 2007 visit to Libya,” the cable continues. “[Note: Rumors that Blair made linkages between Megrahi’s release and trade deals have been longstanding among Embassy contacts. End note.] The UK Ambassador in Tripoli categorically denied the claims.”
In July, US senators called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate BP’s role in the release of al-Megrahi.
“Evidence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster seems to suggest that BP would put profit ahead of people,” US Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a letter to Clinton. “The question we now have to answer is, was this corporation willing to trade justice in the murder of 270 innocent people for oil profits?”
After Clinton voiced some support for an investigation into BP’s role in the release of al-Megrahi, the oil firm admitted it had lobbied the British government, but denied it sought al-Megrahi’s release.
“BP told the UK government that we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya,” BP said in a statement. “We were aware that this could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan government of BP’s exploration agreement.”
“The decision to release al-Megrahi in August 2009 was taken by the Scottish government,” BP claimed. “It is not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish government. BP was not involved in any such discussions about the release of al-Megrahi.”
Jack Straw, the former Labour justice secretary, told The Guardian on Wednesday that the decision to free al-Megrahi was made “by the Scottish government and nobody else.”
“It was a matter of record that Libya wanted al-Megrahi released,” Straw said. “It is also a matter of record that I signed up to a prisoner transfer agreement in 2007 in respect of general prisoner transfers with Libya, but that the agreement was never the vehicle for al-Megrahi’s release. Indeed, he was refused transfer under the PTA and he instead was released under long-standing Scots law on compassionate grounds.”