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One year after release of Lockerbie bomber Megrahi, questions about BP role

Convicted Lockerbie bomber Megrahi is expected to be fêted by Libya's Qaddafi as he marks one year since his release on compassionate medical grounds from the UK. Questions have risen about a possible BP role in pushing for the release.

By Staff Writer / August 16, 2010


Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi left a Scottish prison a year ago Friday on compassionate grounds that he had three months to live. But Britain's media and US senators now wonder if more compassion was given British Petroleum’s oil interests off Libyan shores than the individual found guilty of downing a New York-bound Pan Am 103 with 259 people aboard, 190 of them Americans.

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New statements by the doctors involved confirm that medical specialists most familiar with Mr. Megrahi's case were not consulted by the Scottish authorities deciding to release him. Meanwhile, a general practice physician was apparently willing to sign off on legal criteria for Megrahi's release.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, while visiting the United States last month, blamed Scottish authorities for the decision to release Megrahi, but stiff-armed a formal inquiry, saying, "I don't need an investigation to tell me it was a bad decision."

Megrahi arrived in Libya last August amid fanfare. He has not died but is living in a luxury home, participating in a documentary, and may enjoy a large celebratory party reportedly planned for him this week by leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Megrahi’s release came last year on the cusp of a $900 million BP deal with Libya to explore the African continent’s richest trove of offshore oil.

The one issue barring BP’s move ahead was the release of Megrahi, or what Libyan officials have characterized as a prisoner release or swap.

The UK and Scottish governments, and BP, have said no deals were made; and the then-Gordon Brown administration said it did not press Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill for the release, which Mr. MacAskill maintains was done entirely on humanitarian grounds.

Analysts say it is widely doubted that the Scottish government would by itself make such a determination without input from the British Foreign Office, which would be responsible for such a sensitive matter.

“The mood music of the day was that, despite revulsion at Lockerbie, Qaddafi had changed his stripes, joined the international community, and so this last issue needed sorting,” remarks Justin Urquhart Stewart, director of Seven Investment Management in London, which deals with oil industry issues. “The British government didn’t want its fingerprints on this, so it got passed to the local Scottish government.