Alex Massie

Megrahi & La Raison d’Etat

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One last - barring any more developments! - post on the Megrahi Affair. Much of the commentary has presumed that there must be some grubby, even sinister, deal made. No-one denies that British industrial interests influenced the terms of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (though, again, that agreement was not, I understand, any different to those negotiated with other countries). But that doesn't quite mean there was some grubby, shady conspiracy or that, no matter what some people say, BP really stands for Blair Petroleum.

And for all that big business, government and nasty foreign regimes are often wrapped together it's worth asking what might have happened if Megrahi had been tried, convicted and imprisoned in another jurisdiction. Like, say, France.

You may cordially detest Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and you may - witlessly in my view but never mind - refer to their party as New Liebour or ZaNu Labour but, as best we know, there's been nothing in British politics on their watch that come close to comparing with the entertainment afforded by the Elf Scandal in France.

Just some of the highlights from that - and the associated scandal surrounding the sale of French frigates to Taiwan - include, of course, the story of the "Whore of the Republic", Christine Deviers-Joncour, who was paid more than £7m to sleep with and lobby Roland Dumas, the French foreign secretary. Also...

Elf, now privatised and part of the Total group, paid "at the very least" €5m a year to all of the main French political parties to buy their support, Le Floch told the court at one stage. Most of the money went to the centre-right RPR party founded by the present president, Jacques Chirac, until the socialist François Mitterrand, soon after his presidential election in 1982, demanded that the spoils be evenly spread.

And:

Annual cash transfers totalling about £10m were made to Omar Bongo, Gabon's president, while other huge sums were paid to leaders in Angola, Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville. The multi-million dollar payments were partly aimed at guaranteeing that it was Elf and not US or British firms that pumped the oil, but also to ensure the African leaders' continued allegiance to France. In Gabon, Elf was a veritable state within a state. France accounts for three-quarters of foreign investment in Gabon, and Gabon sometimes provided 75% of Elf's profits. In return for protection and sweeteners from Elf's coffers, France used the state as a base for military and espionage activities in west Africa.

Now there's an amalgamation of business and the state! Had the Lockerbie Bomber been jailed in France (or Italy for that matter) one can only imagine what deals might have been done with Libya. It makes our own politics seem rather drably, even tiresomely, honest in fact...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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