UK did not pressure Scotland to release Lockerbie bomber: report

UK did not pressure Scotland to release Lockerbie bomber: report

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[JURIST] The UK’s top civil servant reported [text, PDF] Monday that the previous administration “[did] all it could” to facilitate a Libyan appeal to allow for the release of convicted Lockerbie [BBC backgrounder] bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from a Scottish prison, but that the decision-making power was solely within the province of the Scottish Government. Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence official, was released from custody [JURIST report] in August 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and subsequently returned to his native Libya. Libyan officials began lobbying for Megrahi’s release after his diagnosis in September 2008, stating that allowing Megrahi to die in Scottish custody would be the equivalent of a death sentence. The officials threatened “severe ramifications to UK interests” if Megrahi was not released. Prime Minister David Cameron [official profile; JURIST news archive] commissioned Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell [BBC profile] to review government documents and correspondence to determine the previous UK government’s involvement in Megrahi’s release. O’Donnell determined that there was no evidence the previous government “pressured or lobbied” the Scottish government to transfer or release Megrahi, but also stated that the previous government had an “underlying desire” of which the Scottish Government was aware to have Megrahi released.

Although it is likely that the Scottish Government was aware of this desire, there is no record that it was communicated or that UK interests played a part in Mr. Megrahi’s release by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds. When the matter came to the then Prime Minister … he did not seek to exercise any influence on the First Minister or the Scottish Government. Mr. Megrahi’s release on cmpassionate grounds was a decision that Scottish Ministers alone could – and did – make.

This “underlying desire” was fueled by a policy adopted after Megrahi’s diagnosis “based upon an assessment that UK interests would be damaged if Mr. Megrahi were to die in a UK jail.” The motivating factor was “normalizing relations” with Libya and avoiding harm “to UK nationals, to British interests and to cooperation on security issues.” One British interest that weighed heavily on this policy was British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website; JURIST news archive], which was engaged in contract negotiations to explore drilling in Libya and was suffering “significant financial loss” while these contracts remained unsigned. Doctors predicted Megrahi had only three months to live when released, but he is still living today in his native Libya.

Last August, the Obama administration urged Libyan authorities to return Megrahi to a Scottish prison [JURIST report] to serve the remainder of his sentence. Also in August, the opposition Scottish Labour Party [party website] called for the publication of all medical evidence [JURIST report] related to Megrahi’s release. In July, US lawmakers called for an investigation [JURIST report] into the role that BP may have played in Megrahi’s release. Megrahi’s release was controversial, with both US officials and the Scottish Parliament [JURIST reports] condemning it. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the Pan Am bombing and sentenced to 27 years in prison, which he subsequently appealed. 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.