Peter Hoskin

The Libya plot thickens

The Libya plot thickens
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So the Sunday Times has got its hands on letters which suggest the al-Megrahi release was tied up with a BP-Libya oil deal, and overseen by the Government with an eye on "the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom".  The ST article deserves quoting at some length:

"Two letters dated five months apart show that [Jack] Straw initially intended to exclude Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement with Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, under which British and Libyan prisoners could serve out their sentences in their home country.

In a letter dated July 26, 2007, Straw said he favoured an option to leave out Megrahi by stipulating that any prisoners convicted before a specified date would not be considered for transfer.

Downing Street had also said Megrahi would not be included under the agreement.

Straw then switched his position as Libya used its deal with BP as a bargaining chip to insist the Lockerbie bomber was included.

The exploration deal for oil and gas, potentially worth up to £15 billion, was announced in May 2007. Six months later the agreement was still waiting to be ratified.

On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote to MacAskill announcing that the UK government was abandoning its attempt to exclude Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement, citing the national interest.

In a letter leaked by a Whitehall source, he wrote: 'I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.

'The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the [prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual.'

Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. The prisoner transfer agreement was finalised in May this year, leading to Libya formally applying for Megrahi to be transferred to its custody."

There's little more to add, except that the Government has some deeply serious questions to answer over this.  And you can expect many of those questions to hone in on Gordon Brown's claim that the UK government had "no role" in, and "could not interfere" with, the al-Megrahi release.  Quite simply, these letters seem to tell a different story.