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US lawmakers call for investigation into BP involvement in release of Lockerbie bomber

US lawmakers are calling for an investigation [press release] into the role that oil company British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] may have played in obtaining an early release for convicted Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder] bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi [BBC profile]. The lawmakers are asking that the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] investigate whether BP played a role in lobbying for the release of al-Megrahi in exchange for a 2007 contract [AP report] with Libya allowing the company to drill in the country's coastal waters. Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence official, was released from custody [JURIST report] last August on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with cancer and subsequently returned to his native Libya. His release was controversial, with both US officials and the Scottish Parliament [JURIST reports] condemning his release. In a letter to the committee [text, PDF], Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) [official website] stated that serious questions remain regarding the veracity of medical reports detailing al-Megrahi's health at the time of his release as well as regarding BP's role in the negotiations for his freedom. Lautenberg cites BP's 2007 admission that they, "told the UK ... it was concerned that a delay in concluding a prisoner transfer with the Libyan government might hurt" the oil deal as evidence that further investigation is warranted. The call for a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation comes one week after a group of senators, including Lautenberg, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) [official websites], urged the British government to conduct a "full, transparent" investigation [press release] into the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi's release.

Al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the Pan Am bombing and sentenced to 27 years in prison, which he subsequently appealed. In November 2008, the Scottish High Court of Judiciary [official website] denied al-Megrahi's request to be released [JURIST report] on bail during the appeals process. In March 2008, lawyers for al-Megrahi were denied access to a "missing document," that they had sought in appealing his conviction [JURIST reports]. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) [official website] granted an appeal [JURIST report] in al-Megrahi's case in June 2007 and referred it the High Court after the commission identified six grounds for a possible "miscarriage of justice" [press release, PDF] in his trial and conviction. In 2003, Libya made its final compensation payment [JURIST report] to a US fund for victims' families in November 2008 after agreeing to accept responsibility for the 1988 airline bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed all 259 on board [memorial website] including 180 Americans.

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