Image: Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, left, gestures at Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill
Andrew Milligan  /  AP
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, left, gestures at Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill during a Sept. 3 session in the Scottish Parliament dominated by discussion about the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
updated 9/4/2009 2:29:31 PM ET 2009-09-04T18:29:31

British oil company BP PLC said Friday that it had expressed concern to the government about progress on a prisoner transfer deal with Libya, but said it had not raised the case of the Libyan agent convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

BP's disclosure follows accusations in the British media that commercial considerations played a role in the negotiations on a prisoner transfer agreement. Libya successfully resisted Britain's effort to specifically exclude Abdel Baset al-Megrahi — the only person convicted in the 1988 attack that killed 270 people — from the agreement.

Scotland's government freed Al-Megrahi on Aug. 20 on compassionate grounds, because he has advanced prostate cancer.

Paper: BP contacted government
A report in The Times newspaper Friday said a BP consultant contacted Justice Secretary Jack Straw in October and again in November of 2007 when Britain was negotiating a prisoner agreement with Libya.

"BP did bring to the attention of the U.K. government in late 2007 our concerns about the slow progress in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya," the company said in a statement. "Like many others, we were aware that delay might have negative consequences for U.K. commercial interests, including ratification of BP's exploration agreement."

But BP insisted it did not single out al-Megrahi as part of the discussion. Al-Megrahi had been sentenced in 2001 to life, with a minimum term of 27 years in prison.

"We were not talking about the al-Megrahi case because we were fully aware that this was solely a matter for the Scottish Executive and not the U.K. authorities," BP said.

Britain: There was no deal
Britain's government has been struggling in recent days to contain the controversy, and to insist that there was no agreement to release the Libyan agent as part of a commercial deal.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was "no conspiracy, no cover up, no double dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers."

At the request of the Scottish government, the British side had sought to specifically exclude al-Megrahi from any prisoner transfer agreement, but eventually backed down and accepted an agreement which did not identify individual cases. There were 16 Libyans in English and Welsh prisons at the end of 2007, according to the Department of Justice.

"Mr. Megrahi was not released under the (prisoner transfer) treaty but quite separately by the Scottish Executive on compassionate grounds," Justice Minister Jack Straw has said.

BP's interest in the prisoner transfer agreement negotiations related to a $900 million exploration agreement with the Libya Investment Corp. signed in May 2007.

In the same month, Britain and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding that they would negotiate agreements on extradition, mutual legal assistance, civil and commercial law as well as prisoner transfer.

The significance of the oil deal was underlined by the presence of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair at the signing ceremony in Libya. BP has not yet produced any oil or gas from that agreement, but has said it expects to drill the first exploratory wells between 2010 and 2012.

The exploration agreement was ratified by Libya on Dec. 23, 2007, BP said.

The prisoner exchange agreement was signed on Nov. 17, 2008, and ratified by Britain's Parliament this year, the Ministry of Justice said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments