Abdel Baset al-Megrahi
Danny Lawson  /  AP
Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi holds his prisoner release papers in 2009 as he walks up stairs to board an airplane at Glasgow International Airport, Glasgow, Scotland bound for Tripoli.
By
updated 7/16/2010 10:02:57 PM ET 2010-07-17T02:02:57

BP's oil spill notoriety is reviving unwelcome attention from Congress on another issue: whether the oil company sought the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to help get a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya off the ground.

Soon after al-Megrahi's release last year, BP acknowledged that it urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it didn't specify his case. It reiterated that stance this week when four U.S. Democratic senators asked the State Department to investigate whether there was a quid pro quo for the Lockerbie bomber's release.

"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 Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the four lawmakers. While the State Department was noncommittal, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced this week it would hold a hearing on the case this month.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi,
AP
This is an undated file photo, issued by the Crown Office, of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan man found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing.

Al-Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board, most of them Americans, and 11 people on the ground. Last August, Scotland's government released the cancer-stricken man on compassionate grounds and he returned to Libya.

As outrage swirled on both sides of the Atlantic, then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denied giving any assurances to Libya's leaders that the bomber would be freed in exchange for oil contracts.

BP denies specifics
BP acknowledged in a statement at the time that it "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. Like many others, we were aware that delay might have negative consequences for U.K. commercial interests, including ratification of BP's exploration agreement."

"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.

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary who freed al-Megrahi, said Friday he had no contact with BP as he decided the Libyan's fate. "We had no communication from the oil company and we had no support or assistance from the British Government," he said.

Clinton discusses issue
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the matter Friday with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and informed him of congressional interest in al-Megrahi's release and a possible BP connection.

"Foreign Secretary Hague offered to communicate directly with the Hill and the secretary agreed that was a good idea," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "She said that this was an important issue in the Congress and recognizing that fact, the foreign secretary made a good faith offer to provide perspective on the decision to release Megrahi, which they both agreed was an error."

In Washington on Thursday, the British Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Nigel Sheinwald, said that "the new British Government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake."

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"Whilst we disagreed with the decision to release Megrahi, we have to respect the independence of the process," he added.

Deal signed in 2007
In May 2007, BP inked the exploration deal with the Libya Investment Corp., with Britain's then-Prime Minister Tony Blair on hand to hail the deal as a sign of improved relations between the two countries.

"A few years back, Britain and Libya could never have had this relationship," Blair said following a two-hour meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in a tent. "This is a change of benefit to Libya and Britain and the wider region."

That 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 prisoner exchange agreement was signed on Nov. 17, 2008, and ratified by Britain's Parliament last year.

British officials have always insisted that the prisoner transfer deal was part of broader diplomatic effort aimed at drawing Libya away from its support for terrorist groups and dismantling the North African nation's worrisome nuclear program. They've also insisted that the prisoner-swap was not specifically aimed at al-Megrahi.

BP role unclear
Whether or not BP's lobbying played a decisive role in the prison transfer negotiations isn't clear from the dozen or so pages of government correspondence released last year.

In July 2007, Britain's justice secretary, Jack Straw, was discussing how to make sure al-Megrahi stayed behind bars. Around the time BP stepped in, Straw wrote to his Scottish counterpart, MacAskill, to say that he had not been able to secure an exclusion for al-Megrahi. Then in a letter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in February 2008, Straw elaborated, saying he had not even tried to seek an exclusion for al-Megrahi.

"Libya is one of only two countries to have ever voluntarily and transparently dismantled its weapons of mass destruction program," Straw wrote. "Having sponsored terrorist attacks in the past, it is now an important partner in the fight against terrorism. I do not believe it is necessary, or sensible, to risk damaging our wide ranging and beneficial relationship with Libya by inserting a specific exclusion into the PTA (prisoner transfer agreement.)"

British officials have since pointed out that, whatever the merits of the prisoner transfer deal, Scottish officials were the ones ultimately responsible for the Libyan's release. So it fell to MacAskill to either approve or deny a request to return al-Megrahi to Libya under the prison transfer agreement. In the end, MacAskill bypassed the prisoner transfer agreement, deciding to release the cancer-stricken al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, on compassionate grounds.

"We rejected the prisoner transfer agreement because of the legitimate grievances and doubts that the American community and families had," MacAskill said Friday. "We granted compassionate release following the laws and values that we hold here in Scotland."

Doctor says comments misconstrued
Doctors advising MacAskill gave al-Megrahi three months to live in August 2009. Earlier this month, Professor Karol Sikora, who examined al-Megrahi for the Libyan government, was quoted in the Sunday Times of London saying the Libyan could live another 10 years.

But Sikora told The Associated Press on Friday his comments had been misconstrued.

"When asked by a Sunday Times reporter if it was possible that Mr. Megrahi could live another 10 years my response was, 'Yes it's possible, but highly unlikely,'" Sikora said. "This answer was twisted into a statement, repeatedly used in the media, that I now thought he would live another 10 years. This is absolutely untrue."

Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, said last year in comments aired on the Libyan television station he owns that al-Megrahi's release was a constant discussion point during trade talks — stretching back to Blair's government.

"In fact, in all the trade, oil and gas deals which I have supervised, you were there on the table," Gadhafi's son told al-Megrahi. "When British interests came to Libya, I used to put you on the table."

Blair, who resigned in 2007, told CNN last year that while the Libyans did raise the issue of al-Megrahi, he told them he did not have the power to release the bomber.

Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, along with New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, are trying to tie the Lockerbie issue to the Gulf oil spill, arguing that evidence suggests the company put profit ahead of people.

"The question we now have to answer is, was this corporation willing to trade justice in the murder of 270 innocent people for oil profits?" they asked. Answering that question, they said, "will help us understand if BP might use blood money to pay claims for damage in the Gulf of Mexico."

In a letter to company chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and CEO Tony Hayward, the senators demanded records of any BP communications with Libya, Britain, Scotland and others concerning al-Megrahi and the prisoner transfer agreement.

A 2007 article in "BP Magazine" showed that the company was trying to put the best light on Libya.

"When you talk to people outside about Libya, Lockerbie is often the first thing they think of — terrorism," BP Libya's business support manager, Ian McGregor, says in the piece. "In actual fact, it's probably one of the safest places I've been to with BP."

The story makes one claim it would probably not emphasize today, saying that BP "brings new expertise to Libya, namely deepwater exploration — gained in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Angola and Egypt.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: BP admits to lobbying for transfer, not Lockerbie release

  1. Closed captioning of: BP admits to lobbying for transfer, not Lockerbie release

    >>> for the first time in nearly three months oil stopped gushing in the gulf of mexico after engineers closed all of the valves on a knew cap over the busted well. however, bp is warning it's not a permanent solution and the well may be reopened at some point. they are trying to manage expectations from all levels here. we've been talking about this all morning and certainly hearing from our contacts who say it's great news, a great shot of that well without the oil gushing, but that we may be seeing that picture again soon and there are, as you pointed out, norah, tens of thousands of people who have been affected by this and businesses wiped out by this who are permanently affected. even if the oil stops gushing.

    >> right. this may be the point that the white house has been waiting for because this is now the first time in 86 days that there is no longer a great deal of oil seeping from this as this has been a partially successful. we still don't know yet whether -- they still have to get the relief well drilled but like as one of the oyster men from the region said this is like putting a band-aid on the devastation.

    >> pat, is it too late for this to have some sort of positive upswing for the administration given how long it's -- what a long road it's been?

    >> i think help with the administration if you get it stopped and off the news. if it works and no seepage and that crust of that ocean doesn't crack. i think that the president can move on to something else that's got to be good news because this thing has been uniformly bad in terms of the response and in terms of the distraction.

    >> sam?

    >> let me add one note. it's not about the president. we went 85 days in this oil crisis and we are, right now, no closer to an energy bill , a comprehensive energy bill that lessens our addiction on oil. i think you take advantage of crisis as rahm emanuel famously said and we have any used this for our addiction to oil.

    >> look what they were doing in the gulf. resisting going into court. don't stop the drilling, offshore drilling .

    >> 73% of the people oppose a ban on it. not just now. a long-term ban on drilling.

    >> i give you another reason to get off our addiction to oil. bp now admitting to lobbying the british government to carry out a prisoner transfer agreement with libya but not for the release of the lockerbie bomber . bp says it was concerned that any delay to negotiations would damage its commercial interests in the region. and although libya wanted that agreement to secure the release of the lockerbie bomber , it never materialized. instead, al megrahi was granted a compassionate release after a doctor said he just had three months to live. that was a year and a half ago and he is still alive living quite well in libya . still, secretary of state hillary clinton is pledging to investigate allegations of bp 's involvement in megrahi's release in exchange for a lucrative oil contract with libya . this is the shot we saw, dad, when this guy was released and much to the dismay and reopening of wounds for 270 families who have lost people in the lockerbie bombing situation, and he is still alive and this is -- i don't see any other way to see this, but a dirty deal that has been done.

    >> well, you, obviously, underestimate the miraculous recovering powers of libyan medicine.

    >> right. it's the health care system ! see? we should have turned to libya .

    >> more seriously, bp may be taken to task for its involvement in this issue. but just who rushed first to libya when libya decided to, so to speak, rejoin the world and make some international concessions on its nuclear program ? prime minister blair who followed him. the top fench officials, italians and others. bp were obviously polishing the apple in terms of its own use but the european government who were first rushing there and cutting a deal.

    >> doesn't it testify to the utter morality of globalization?

    >> here we go.

    >> in contrast of morlt of nonglobalization?

    >> i think when the american foreign policy has a moral component to it. sometimes it doesn't dominate in everything but this is utterly a moral. -- i mean, do you care about people at all in what you just said? yet these european leaders going over there, these companies rushing over here. 270 people dead. american kids scattered over the countryside were shaking hands with the guy who was a murderer that is gadhafi. he ordered that thing. this is incredible. this is a mass murderer .

    >> but, pat, let's just look at it in light of perspective. i just came back from mongolia. i flew there on a south korean plane. as i was thinking about the past on my way to mongolia, i thought of the south korean plane full of passengers, including a u.s. congressman who was shut down by the soviets. should we have gone to war with the soviet union some.

    >> no, i don't think so. i think it was a stupid order.

    >> one is stupid and the other is vicious?

    >> it was a planned prepared premeditated mass murderer .

    >> i don't know why --

    >> told shoot it down --

    >> i don't know why one incident in a decade full of horrible crimes against humanity all over the place. the point is in every instance, you have to make a judgment, what do you accomplish by reacting in a particular way? well, look. i think it happened at the end of reagan . i think if you're going to retaliate and respond against a country the way reagan did in '86 when he hit libya for the bombing which was far less than this, i think if you were going to attack and invade anybody, we had a better case against colonel ga daddy than iraq.

    >> you're saying the country is immoral and weak you go after it. if a country is moral and strong, you retaliate.

    >> i think you respond to kal, the shooting down of that airline.

    >> how would you have responded?

    >> i think reagan should have been tougher in the statements he made and --

    >> with words some.

    >> well, i mean, this is the point. is this all just -- there is no morality at all?

    >> he was released on supposedly compassion ground he would die within three months. now we have learned he is learning much longer and shall some form of prostate cancer and he seems fine . we learn that bp may have lobbied in order to secure a multimillion dollar, 800, 900 million dollar oil deal. doesn't this stink to high heaven?

    >> but look. they rushed to libya and competing with each other. that, unfortunately, is a fact of life.

    >> but can you make a moral comment --

    >> you going to reduce foreign policy --

    >> not reduce it to that.

    >> elevate it to morality you will be isolated and bogged down and making decisions which is damaging to your long-term survival.

    >> i know how the world is structured but should there not be a moral compensate component to american policy?

    >> it has to be based on the principle morality, it's evil, it's evil.

    >> i agree with that.

    >> it's okay if it's by a strong party.

    >> two separate issues about whether reopening diplomatic relations with libya and whether bp should be involved in the lobbying for a man involved in killing 270 people so that they could get an oil --

    >> you're talking about oil politics versus an idea of modernizing libyan government . i think you have to separate those. oil politics with e -- release of this terrorist was corrupt.

    >> bp , for example, is a big player in terms of english investors.

    >> yes.

    >> it's a major player in the english economy .

    >> they have huge contracts with the united states military . the third largest supplier of oil.

    >> are the united states military .

    >> notice the british government our closest ally, mr. bush's personal pal, mr. blair, was among the first to be rushing there. now if we're going to have a standard that makes us only, only guided by morality, we're going to be terrible isolated and not effective in the world seen because all we will be able to do is be weak accommodating with the strong who are sometimes far more immoral.

    >> talk about strategic things. let's talk about seriously about iran . it seems to me, and correct me if i'm wrong, that the sanctions are not working.

    >> i want say wrong but i may --

    >> that's what we do here.

    >> it seems to me we are moving at the fourth row of sanctions and not very effective but it does seem we saw chuck rob's article and other people saying by the qaurkt of first quarter of qven obama has to decide we have to take the nuclear sites out. do you see us head inside that direction and what do you think of the resolution, crisis, quote/unquote.

    >> i think it would be -- look. we are finding it very, very difficult increasing will i to sustain our effort in afghanistan . we're afraid it might, in fact, involve us in further engagement in pakistan . iraq is far from finished. the israeli issue is wobbly and it could go better or it could go worse. on top of that we want to add to our list a war with iran and all of those consequences, including something we were talking about a bad word , oil, but it's going to cost a lot more if is there a war with iran and we will be paying $10 bucks a balance gallon. this is a prescription for a real acceleration of american decline in the world . i've been in china and everybody has been in china these days but what is so striking about china is the epitome of the stressful nations and emphasis putting on 21st century . you leave china for this magnificent airport and you get there through terrific intercity communications. you arrive in washington and you're, at best, in late 20th century with a lot of it smacking of 19th century backwards. if we don't think of our position in the world in connection with our capacity for national recovery and being a leader in the world again we will drift into decay.

    >> one question on that. look. what is coming up is it's going to be the deficit is the issue we're getting this from this commission. they are going to cut back. now about 1 trillion of our budget is the defense budget . the two wars we have going and the bases overseas and intelligent and nuclear budget spread through the agencies. where, in terms of forp are what people call the american purity, can we pull back and cut? the president said, dr. brzezinski, you have to get $200 billion out of the budget aborder, we cannot maintain this worldwide presence, where would you cut?

    >> i'm going to answer you in a way which is going to sound, unfortunately, we self-serving. but i'll tell you what i was saying right after 9/11. because i think we took a wrong turn after 9/11. we slid into very sort of simplistic black and white view of the world . we against the bad guys and we against the jihadism and we against the world of islam as a whole and look where we are ten plus or minus years later. when 9/11 happened, there were two things i recommended. and i was very marginally involved in the discussions that led to the decision to go into afghanistan . i said, absolutely, we have to go into afghanistan . and we have to smash al qaeda but immediately after the meeting in which i took part, i told rumsfeld, but let's not stay. let's not make the mistake the soviets made. let's not stay. and to prove this is not just something that i am recollecting conveniently now, within a month, i wrote a long article in the "the wall street journal " in which i spoke about that and a larger article in "the new york times" saying, look. let's work with the moderate muslims because they are by far the majority in the muslim world to isolate extremists and go after al qaeda and not stay in afghanistan and get out after at the smash it and go back again if we have to do it later and don't get involved in more and more wars in a huge swath of the world . final point. if you are arrival in america and different way the chinese are our rivals even though good relations to them with some extent what would you want america to be doing? you would want america to be bogged down. we have bogged ourselves down.

    >> and added to our deficit is exactly what they wanted to do to break this country.

    >> exactly right.

    >> this brings me to my question actually. there was a domestic political scuttle this past week with rnc chairman michael steele who stated there is a profound lesson which you do not engage in land wars in afghanistan . i'm wondering if you could talk about that and a separate question which is carl levin said this week he wants to increase the number of drone strikes in pakistan targeting the hakani network and questions whether they are producing more terrorists than they are killing and i'm wondering what your thoughts are on accelerating that aspect on our war on terror .

    >> in afghanistan , we could win for sure. put in 500,000 troops, maybe build it up to a million.

    >> 500,000 to a million?

    >> go to the draft so the children of the middle class go there and not on the volunteers who sometimes go because it's necessary to survive. many go for patriotic reasons but we could win. we're not going to do it. as a society, it's just out. we're spending now on defense budget and the war more than the entire world combined. it's crazy.

    >> yeah.

    >> and there are options but the president has to articulate clearly and narrowly our objective and that becomes attainable and then you have to have a time limit on our presence and so forth. on pakistan , you asked me we have little time left with this segment.

    >> we'll keep it here.

    >> let's not enlarge the war

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