During his recent visit to the White House, British Prime Minister David Cameron adamantly denied any link between BP and the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, rejecting any possibility of a new investigation into the matter, maintaining that there is ‘no need for further investigations’.
Four US Democratic senators led by New Jerseys’ Frank Lautenberg, have sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to ‘hold a hearing and thoroughly investigate the role that oil contracts played in the decision to release Mr Megrahi.’ He further, along with senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez, wrote to UK Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald last week urging a full investigation into the release of Mr Megrahi who is ‘still alive and reportedly living in luxury.’
‘Was this corporation willing to trade justice in the murder of 270 innocent people for oil profits?’ Senator Schumer added that the answer to that would ‘help us understand if BP might use blood money to pay claims for damage in the Gulf of Mexico.’
‘The evidence here may be circumstantial but if I were a prosecutor, I'd love to take this case to a jury,’ said New York Senator Charles Schumer. But without the cooperation of the UK government, such an investigation will remain unfeasible.
So, what exactly IS the circumstantial evidence? Where there’s smoke…
Cameron not only condemned the release of al-Megrahi, he attempted to shift the blame onto the Scottish, conveniently overlooking Gordon Brown’s approval of the agreement in 2007. ‘It was a government decision’, where the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill had the right only to veto the application. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to insist there was ‘no evidence’ to support claims the release of al-Megrahi was linked to any BP oil deal. In his letter – copied to foreign relations committee chair Senator John Kerry – he said;’There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish Executive's decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009 nor any suggestion that the Scottish Executive decided to release Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP.’
Leaked ministerial letters, however, clearly show that it was the British government which decided it was ‘in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom’ to release al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had bogged down. Two letters by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, clearly shows that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, made by the UK government in London for British national interests. While Straw originally 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, Straw later changed his mind after Libya insisted the Lockerbie bomber would be included and dragged their feet over the deal with BP as leverage for six months until Whitehall caved.
On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote to the Scottish Justice Secretary, informing him that the UK government was capitulating, citing national interest in its decision to include Megrahi in the prisoner transfer agreement. In a letter leaked by a Whitehall source, Straw 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.’
Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya and a board member of the Libyan British Business Council, has also openly acknowledged the link between BP and Libyan interests: ‘Nobody doubted Libya wanted BP and BP was confident its commitment would go through. But the timing of the final authority to spend real money was dependent on politics.”
Six weeks after the UK giving in to Libyan demands and the release of al-Megrahi, all those pesky difficulties over BP’s oil contract magically disappeared. But there’s no link here, no sirree, all circumstantial, can’t prove a thing.
Except even the Libyans openly admit the release of al-Megrahi was directly linked to the BP oil deal. Saad Djebbar, an international lawyer who advises the Libyan government and who visited Megrahi in jail in Scotland, said: ‘No one was in any doubt that if al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison it would have serious repercussions for many years which would be to the disadvantage of British industry.’ Saif Gadaffi, the son of the Libyan ruler who spearheaded the negotiations for the release of al-Megrahi and personally escorted al-Megrahi from Scotland to Tripoli, further backed this up. ‘At all times we talked about the [prisoner transfer agreement]. It was obvious we were talking about al-Megrahi. We all knew that was what we were talking about.’ Saif later told Megrahi, who was welcomed back to Libya as a hero, 'You were on the table in all commercial, oil and gas agreements that we supervised in that period. You were on the table in all British interests when it came to Libya, and I personally supervised this matter.’
Saif Gadaffi, just coincidentally, has moved to Britain, buying a £10m home in Hampstead, north London and moving his financial and media empire to London. It probably helped grease the wheels ever so slightly that his company, Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, donated £1.5m to a new global governance unit to his former alma mater, the London School of Economics. Just coincidence. All circumstantial.
And al-Megrahi’s miraculous recovery? Well, seems the doctor who made the initial diagnosis of three months were paid by the Libyan government for *ahem* adjusting their medical opinions. Under Scottish rules, prisoners can only be freed on compassionate grounds if they are diagnosed with a terminal disease and have three months or less to live. Scottish doctors who had already examined al-Megrahi had concluded he had at least up to 10 months to live. But two of the three doctors commissioned by the Libyans provided the required three-month estimates, while the third hedged his bets, indicating only that the prisoner ‘had a short time to live.’
Professor Karol Sikora, one of the examining doctors, admitted, ‘To start with I said it was impossible to [give a three-month life expectancy estimate] but, when I looked at it, it looked as though it could be done – you could actually say that.’ He and a second doctor, a Libyan, then estimated Megrahi’s life expectancy as ‘about three months. […] The figure of three months was suggested as being helpful [by the Libyans].’
Al-Megrahi not only is still alive, but has since recovered sufficiently to be moved out of an emergency care unit in Tripoli and return home.
Merely a twist of fate. Sheer coincidence. Circumstantial evidence only.
As is the fact that the Libyan foreign minister Mousa Kousa, who had been a senior Libyan politician expelled from Britain in 1980 for boasting about a plot to kill Libyan dissidents living in London, as well as being implicated in planning the Lockerbie bombing – a claim he denies – played a key role in the talks to free Megrahi.
In the course of diplomatic negotiations, Kousa had threatened serious reprisals if al-Megrahi died in jail. According to the minutes of a meeting on Jan 22 between Libyan and Scottish officials, the records shows that ‘Mr Kousa stated that Mr al-Megrahi’s death in Scotland would not be viewed well by the Muslims or Arabs. Nor would it be good for relations,’ further warning that trade deals between the two countries – worth billions of pounds – would be cancelled. He also told British businessmen that plans to open a London office of the Libyan Investment Authority, a sovereign fund with £83 billion ($136 billion) to invest, would be jeopardised if Megrahi died in jail.
Britain was sufficiently impressed by these threats that it provided financial aid for Libya, a £146,000 ‘sweetener’, during discussions over the release of Megrahi .
Again, just circumstantial. Nothing provable.
Oh, look. Here’s another circumstantial puff of smoke, and it’s a biggie… BP denied they had specifically named al-Magrahi in any prisoner exchange for oil deal. But in September, 2009, it was reported that the Tory business chief, Lord Trefgarne, had pressured MacAskill to release al-Megrahi – specifically – citing ‘grave concern’ to the business interests of the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC), for which Lord Trefgarne was a senior peer and chairman. LBBC’s ruling council includes Barclay’s Bank, HSBC and JP Morgan Chase (which pays Tony Blair £2 million a year as an adviser), along with oil companies BP and Shell.
And it’s only coincidence, coincidence I tells ya, that Lord Trefgarne’s son, George, just happened to be BP’s director of media and research and still does consultancy work for the company.
Cameron, who apparently doesn’t read his own newspapers, still insists he has seen nothing to suggest that there was any unseemly terrorist for oil deals made between Libya, the UK and BP. Yet not all of Cameron’s colleagues are backing his Sergeant Shultz-ish ‘we knew nothing, nothing!’ position. Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP, has roundly condemned the deal as ‘further evidence that our Government has done a grubby deal with a nasty regime. It is an oil-for-terrorist deal.’ In a final irony, al-Megrahi himself supports a new investigation. He has insisted in an interview that he is innocent, saying ‘We all want to know the truth. I support the issue of a public inquiry.’
Even with all the circumstantial evidence of the complicity of the British government in the murkiest of back-room deals, backhander bribes, and cowardly capitulation to blackmail, it’s quite doubtful any of this will ever see the light of an open enquiry, never mind a courtroom. So, in lieu of any legal investigation, we may have to be satisfied with the conclusions drawn in the court of public opinion.
And public opinion isn’t too favourable. It’s just more of what we all have become increasingly convinced – the poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t matter. The deaths of 270 people – 189 of them Americans – don’t matter. Obama can frown diplomatically for the television watching public all he likes, but unless he demonstrates more than mild disappointment in Cameron’s decision, the continued obfuscation, lies and manipulation by BP – who have even stooped to photoshopping this past week to exaggerate its activity at its Gulf oil spill command centre in Houston – will not only continue to be tolerated, but endorsed by governments held hostage to oil. Including ours.
The families of those who died on Pan Am 103 understand this quite well. Bob Monetti of New Jersey, whose son Rick was among the victims of the 1988 bombing, said: “It’s always been about business.”
For BP, it’s still business as usual.