NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 7/15/2010 7:16:26 PM ET 2010-07-15T23:16:26

Britain's envoy to the United States said Thursday that Scotland's decision to free the Lockerbie jet bomber was "a mistake" but denied that oil interests influenced the decision.

The comment followed a furor over allegations that oil giant BP played a role in Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's release last year. Al-Megrahi, 57, is the only person convicted of carrying out the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

"The new British government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake," said Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald in a statement. "Claims in the press that Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP, and that the medical evidence used by the Scottish executive supporting his release was paid for by the Libyan government, are not true."

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Al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government after doctors said the convicted terrorist had prostate cancer and just three months to live. Nearly a year later, he remains alive.

"A Scottish inquiry concluded in February that the medical opinion and the release was done in good faith," Sheinwald said in the statement.

BP controversy
BP signed a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya in May 2007, the same month that Britain and Libya signed an agreement that paved the way for al-Megrahi's release from a Scottish prison.

BP also admitted that it had lobbied the British government over a prisoner transfer deal with Libya in late 2007 but denied playing any role in the actual decision to release al-Megrahi nearly two years later.

Said Sheinwald: "The British government deeply regrets the continuing anguish that his release on compassionate grounds has caused the families of Megrahi's victims in the U.K., as well as in the U.S."

NBC News' Courtney Kube and Andrea Mitchell contributed to this report.

Video: Did BP trade oil for terrorist's release?

  1. Transcript of: Did BP trade oil for terrorist's release?

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: news for something else today. Perhaps you'll remember, almost a year ago, when the Pan Am 1 03 Lockerbie bomber was allowed to go home to Libya because he had terminal cancer and was dying -- or so we were told by both sides when the deal to release him came through. Now it turns out BP was a player behind the scenes in that controversial deal. Our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell explains how and why.

    ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: The only man convicted of the Pan Am bombing, Abdel Baset al - Megrahi , got a hero's welcome in Libya a year ago. He was set free because doctors said he had only three months to live, advanced prostate cancer . Now, a year later, he is still alive. The cancer specialist who examined him was hired by the Libyans but today denied he was under any pressure.

    Dr. KAROL SIKORA (British Oncologist): The question was, how could you get an accurate prognosis? And the real truth, it's very difficult to be accurate. You can just approximate. It's all numbers and statistics.

    MITCHELL: Senators are asking for an investigation. Did BP pressure the British government ?

    Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): What role did BP play in convincing the British government to agree to this and the release of Megrahi ?

    MITCHELL: The oil company says it was concerned about the slow progress of the prisoner transfer agreement, was aware that this could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including Libya 's approval of BP 's oil deal. But the company claims it never specifically pressed for Megrahi 's release. Lawmakers here aren't buying that.

    Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): The whole thing has deep

    circumstantial evidence that points to the fact that there was a trade-off: release the terrorists in exchange for an oil contract.

    MITCHELL: All of this renews the pain and anger of the victims' families.

    Mr. BERT AMMERMAN (Brother of Pan Am 103 Victim): This is a national disgrace. There needs to be an investigation on the involvement of the American government and the British and -- government. Megrahi was released for oil. Heads should roll.

    MITCHELL: Tonight the new British government says the release of the Pan Am bomber was a mistake, but that Scottish authorities had sole jurisdiction and they are offering no apology. Andrea Mitchell , NBC News, Washington.


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