Scottish minister says he has no information to offer US Senate on the Lockerbie bomber case

By David Stringer, AP
Friday, July 23, 2010

Scottish official to skip US Lockerbie hearing

LONDON — The Scottish minister who authorized the release of the Lockerbie bomber said Friday he won’t appear at a U.S. Senate hearing on the case because he has no new information to offer.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been invited to address the Senate committee on foreign relations, which is investigating whether oil giant BP lobbied Scotland to release Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to smoothe an oil exploration deal with Libya. Al-Megrahi was freed from jail last year on compassionate grounds.

“The U.S. Senate’s invitation is primarily predicated on an investigation into what may or may not have happened with regard to a BP oil deal,” he said. “The Scottish government was neither party nor privy to what was going on there, so we’ve made it quite clear that we have no information that we can provide regarding that.”

BP and the British government have acknowledged they held discussions as Britain struck a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, allowing the movement of prisoners and suspects between the two countries.

But al-Megrahi, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, was released on compassionate grounds — not under the prisoner deal. BP insists it has not attempted to intervene in his case.

Al-Megrahi was convicted for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, most of them American and many from the New York area.

He served eight years of a life sentence in a Scottish prison, but was released last August after doctors assessed he had only three months to live. He is still alive almost a year later, leading many to question his original release.

Some Lockerbie victims’ relatives in Britain have also previously questioned al-Megrahi’s conviction, believing full facts in the case were not aired at his trial, conducted at a special Scottish court set up in the Netherlands after years of diplomatic maneuvering,

MacAskill said Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has sent a letter to the Senate committee setting out the terms under which Scotland made the decision to release the cancer-stricken al-Megrahi.

“But we don’t know anything about a BP deal,” he said. “We were not party to any of those discussions, so there’s nothing I can usefully add.”

Richard Baker, a Scottish opposition Labour Party lawmaker, said MacAskill should attend the hearing Thursday, and also meet families of al-Megrahi’s victims.

“The U.S. senators want to know why al-Megrahi was released. Only one person can tell them that — that’s Kenny MacAskill,” he told the BBC. “It speaks volumes about the lack of confidence he has now in his own decision that he is running a mile from any scrutiny of it.”

MacAskill said he was “not running scared from anything,” and cooperating with the Senate inquiry.

The Scottish Prison Service’s medical chief, Andrew Fraser, has also declined a request to attend the hearing in Washington on July 29.

Jack Straw, British justice secretary in the previous U.K. government under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said he had received an invitation to the Senate hearing, but would not attend.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with that decision. I saw no papers about it, and was not consulted about it. Indeed I was on holiday at the time and only learnt about it from an item on the BBC News website,” Straw wrote in a letter Friday to the committee.

Straw said that because al-Megrahi had been released on compassionate grounds, the discussions between Britain and BP over the prisoner deal were irrelevant.

“The decision was one taken entirely on medical grounds, without involvement from the U.K. Government, and without pressures from BP,” Straw wrote.

Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said the former British leader — who was instrumental in bringing Libya back into the international fold — had not received any request to attend.

BP PLC said CEO Tony Hayward has been asked to attend the hearing, but has not made a decision on whether to testify.


Associated Press Writer Sylvia Hui contributed to this report

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