It's Scottish judges' turn now in Pan Am 103 case

The biggest international police effort in history rests on weak evidence, say legal observers.

Judges began considering their verdict yesterday in the trial of two Libyans accused of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

They had heard 82 days of evidence over the course of eight months of hearings that were the result of the biggest international police inquiry in history.

Defense attorney Richard Keen, however, ended his summation yesterday by claiming that the case against his client, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, was no more than "inference upon inference upon inference upon inference upon inference, leading to an inference." He asked the judges to find Mr. Fahima not guilty.

The prosecution has acknowledged that it had only a circumstantial case against Fahima and co-defendant Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, allegedly a Libyan intelligence agent. They are accused of having hidden a bomb in a suitcase that they put on a plane in Malta, tagged so that it would be transferred onto the Pan Am airliner.

But the web of circumstantial evidence, prosecution lawyer Alistair Campbell argued, was woven so tightly as to implicate nobody but the two defendants.

Mr. Megrahi's counsel, William Taylor, ended his summation yesterday after spending four days on what trial analyst John Grant calls, "an exercise in obfuscation and confusion," trying to sow doubt in the three Scottish judges' minds.

The case is being heard according to Scottish law in a special courthouse in Camp Zeist, the Netherlands, as part of a deal arranged to persuade the Libyan government that the trial would be fair.

Mr. Taylor was trying "to create some kind of reasonable doubt in the minds of the judges, picking at a lot of the details in the Crown's case" says Professor Grant, head of a Glasgow University team that has been monitoring the trial since it began.

Under Scottish law, the prosecution must prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that the two defendants are guilty of the charge against them - murder - for planting the bomb that killed all 259 people aboard Pan Am 103 and 11 people on the ground in the village of Lockerbie.

The judges can choose between verdicts of guilty and a mandatory life sentence - which would certainly be appealed - or not guilty, or not proven. The defendants would walk free in either of the last two cases.

Legal observers say the prosecution had a difficult task. "The case has been weak all along," says Grant. "That is no fault of anyone other than the fact that there are no eyewitnesses" to the way the bomb found its way onto Pan Am 103, "and it all happened a very long time ago."

Much will depend on how credible the three judges find some key prosecution witnesses, including a turncoat former Libyan spy and an arms dealer who allegedly provided the timer attached to the bomb. Both appeared to stumble at times under cross-examination by defense lawyers.

Presiding judge Lord Sutherland adjourned the court until Jan. 30, when he said he would give a date for the court's verdict.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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