Did BP Help Get Lockerbie Bomber Released From Prison ?
There’s been increasing speculation over the past several days that BP may have played a role in last year’s release of the only person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland:
LONDON — The oil giant BP faced a new furor on Thursday as it confirmed that it had lobbied the British government to conclude a prisoner-transfer agreement that the Libyan government wanted to secure the release of the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
The admission came after American legislators, grappling with the controversy over the company’s disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, called for an investigation into BP’s actions in the case of the freed man, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.
The former Libyan intelligence agent was released and allowed to return to Libya last August after doctors advised the Scottish government that he was likely to die within three months of advanced prostate cancer. But nearly a year later, he remains alive, and free, in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
BP’s statement on Thursday repeated earlier acknowledgments that it had promoted the transfer agreement to protect a $900 million offshore oil-and-gas exploration deal off Libya’s Mediterranean coast. The British justice minister at the time, Jack Straw, admitted shortly after Mr. Megrahi was repatriated and freed that the BP deal was a consideration in the government’s review of his case.
In the end, Mr. Megrahi was not released under the prisoner transfer agreement. Instead, to the consternation of the Obama administration, and of many of the victims’ families, the Scottish government released him in August 2009 under provisions in Scottish law that allow for a prisoner’s sentence to be commuted on humanitarian grounds, because Mr. Megrahi had terminal prostate cancer. That freed him from serving any further prison time in Libya, as he would have had to do under the transfer pact.
BP’s business dealings in Libya include an exploration deal in the Gulf of Sidra and others in the western desert, which the company estimates could lead to an eventual BP investment of up to $20 billion. The deals represent BP’s return to Libya after decades of exclusion that followed nationalization of the company’s interests there in the 1970s.
“It’s not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish government,” the BP statement said. “BP was not involved in any discussion with the U.K. government or the Scottish government about the release of Mr. al-Megrahi.”
But the company’s critics have said that such a distinction was largely illusory, since Libya’s pressure for the prisoner transfer pact was primarily motivated, as Libyan officials said at the time, by their desire to bring Mr. Megrahi home.
This news comes only a week after we learned that the medical evidence used to support al-Megrahi’s compassionate release was essentially false.
The role of the Libyan oil deal in the release isn’t exactly a secret, though, we were hearing similar allegations when al-Megrahi was released last year:
The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.
Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.
The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.
The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests
And, specifically, the interests of BP.
If nothing else, this revelation makes the decision to release al-Megrahi all the more outrageous and further solidifies the reputation of BP as perhaps the most reviled corporation in American history.
There really isn’t anything that the United States can do about this at this point, of course, but it would seem to be useful for the truth to come out here.