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Lockerbie release linked to oil deal: report -

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Lockerbie release linked to oil deal: report

Meredith Griffiths reported this story on Monday, August 31, 2009 12:38:00

ELEANOR HALL: In the United Kingdom speculation has intensified that the release of the Lockerbie
bomber was linked to a trade deal between the UK and Libya.

A series of letters leaked to The Sunday Times newspaper suggest that the Government may have
decided to include the Libyan man in a prisoner transfer deal in order to help a British oil
company secure a contract in Libya.

The British Government though has strongly denied the accusation.

Meredith Griffiths has our report.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: There has been outrage in the United Kingdom and America since Abdul Baset Ali
al-Megrahi flew home to Libya two weeks ago. He'd only served eight years in jail for blowing up
Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie ; 270 people died.

The Scottish Government says it released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he is dying of
prostate cancer but there have been widespread accusations that the release was linked to trade
ties between the UK and Libya and those claims have received a boost after a story published in
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper.

Two years ago the British Government was trying to negotiate a prisoner transfer deal with Libya.
There was some question over whether or not al-Megrahi should be exempt from the deal.

Letters written at the time have been leaked to Sunday Times journalist Jason Allardyce.

JASON ALLARDYCE: Jack Straw wrote to the Scottish Government in July 2007 to say that he was quite
happy to try and exempt the Lockerbie bomber from a prisoner transfer deal that Britain had agreed
with Libya.

Then in December Jack Straw wrote back to the Scottish Government to say that he no longer felt it
was in Britain's national interests for this prisoner to be exempted from the deal and referred
explicitly to "wider negotiations" with the Libyans which were reaching a critical stage and these
we understand to be oil interests and others that Britain and Libya were discussing.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: At the time BP was trying to secure a multibillion dollar oil exploration deal
with Libya.

While the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn't commented on the release of al-Megrahi at all,
his Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said last week it was wrong, implausible and offensive to
suggest that trade negotiations played a part.

But Sunday Times journalist Jason Allardyce says the letters he's been given suggest that the
Government's decision was influenced by the oil negotiations

JASON ALLARDYCE: This evidence points to fact that Britain did had a wider interest in Libya at the
time and we know that what was happening at this time was that the Libyans had threatened the
viability of the this 15 billion pounds potentially oil deal that BP was seeking to pursue in
Libya.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The British Government has denied putting any pressure on Scotland to release
al-Megrahi but Jason Allardyce says he's seen yet another letter from the UK Government to Scotland
which appears to contradict that claim.

JASON ALLARDYCE: This encouraged the Scottish Government to go ahead with the transfer request. The
language certainly implied that they wanted this to go ahead.

So we have the UK Government as the architects of this whole agreement. Until a few weeks ago
prisoner transfer was the only deal in town. That's what the UK Government wanted. It's what Libya
wanted.

Ultimately the Scottish Government decided not to go along with that option. They didn't want to be
accused of being part of a deal that could be accused of being sort of terrorist for trade so they
went for a compassionate release.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The British Justice Minister Jack Straw has strenuously denied the allegations.

JACK STRAW: The suggestion that at any stage there was some kind of back door deal done over Mr
Megrahi's transfer because of trade is simply untrue.

Our position was that we wanted and Libyans wanted a prisoner transfer agreement. We have these
agreements with scores of countries. That was part of the normalisation process. But as is normal,
we made it clear to the Libyans we were not negotiating about any particular prisoner.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Jack Straw says the prisoner transfer agreement was part of efforts to improve
relations with Libya after it abandoned its nuclear weapons program but he says the deal did not
guarantee the transfer of al-Megrahi

JACK STRAW: And it remained open last week to the Scots to refuse to transfer Mr Megrahi and the
Libyans would have done, been able to do nothing about it. And we certainly would not have
intervened on behalf of the Libyans.

So that is why this story frankly as I say is an absurd confection.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Jason Allardyce from The Sunday Times says the Government must release all the
records it has of the deals if it wants to clear up the matter once and for all.

ELEANOR HALL: And that report from Meredith Griffiths.