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.

Danny Lawson/AP/File
In this Aug. 2009 file photo, Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi holds his prisoner release papers as he boards an aeroplane at Glasgow International Airport, Glasgow, Scotland, bound for Tripoli. One year later, Britain's media and US senators now wonder if more compassion was given BP’s oil interests off Libyan shores than the individual found guilty of downing a New York-bound Pan Am 103.

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.

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.

"It’s highly unlikely the Scots would devise this entirely on their own.... I think everyone was making it up as they went along, and claiming, ‘This is not my issue.’ ... The whole thing should have been lost in the fog of news, but it hasn’t been,” since Megrahi is alive, Stewart says.

Deal or no deal?

When Megrahi was released, Qaddafi’s son, Saif al Islam Qaddafi, said triumphantly that the act came out of a trade deal with the UK. The British Foreign Office issued a blistering rejoinder stating: “There is no deal. All decisions relating to Megrahi’s case have been exclusively for Scottish ministers, the Crown Office in Scotland, and the Scottish judicial authorities.”

BP, however, said last month, after a request by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to investigate, that it had been a matter of “public record” since 2007 that the company did push the British government to find a way to meet Libya’s demands on a prisoner release, though it said it did not discuss Megrahi in particular.

Yesterday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted he visited Qaddafi this June, days after his spokesman denied he was an adviser to the Libyan leader, according to the British daily the Telegraph.

UK and Scottish authorities have declined a request by Congress to testify on the matter.

Request for whistleblowers

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have asked for UK “whistleblowers” to come forward who might link Megrahi’s release to BP’s deal. Four US senators from New York and New Jersey on Aug. 10 asked Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for disclosure of Megrahi’s medical records.

Despite varying views on the wisdom and determinative nature of medical diagnoses in an era when “terminal” is often disputed, the issue is whether Scottish authorities in the office of MacAskill sought out or omitted a diagnosis that would potentially benefit BP.

The story has turned on British newspaper reports last May and again this month showing none of the four doctors that treated Megrahi for prostate cancer were consulted in the final report.

Rather, the diagnosis came from a nonspecialist who appears to have presented a “worst case” scenario that has since been recanted, most recently by cancer specialist Karol Sikora, one of three doctors providing an opinion for release.

Now Dr. Sikora says a panel of physicians working independently from Scottish government influence should have made the determination.

"In medicine we say 'Never say never and never say always,' because funny things happen. All you can do is give a statistical opinion," Sikora, the dean of the School of Medicine at Buckingham University, was quoted as telling Britain's Observer newspaper on Sunday. “I provided an opinion, others provided an opinion, and someone else let him out. That decision of compassionate release is nothing to do with me.”

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