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Britain denies oil link to bomber’s release

British officials denied Saturday that the Lockerbie bomber's early release was linked to oil and gas deals with Libya.
Image: Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, Moammar Gadhafi
Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, right, is greeted by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli on Friday in this image taken from Libyan TV.AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

British officials denied Saturday that the Lockerbie bomber's early release was linked to oil and gas deals with Libya.

Television footage showed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son discussing how he lobbied repeatedly for the return of former intelligence agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi during trade talks with Britain.

The comments by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, which aired on the Libyan television station Al-Mutawasat, were made on the plane as al-Megrahi was flying back to Libya. Al-Megrahi was the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people.

Speaking to al-Megrahi, Gadhafi's son said his release was a constant point of discussion during ongoing trade talks.

"In fact, in all the trade, oil and gas deals which I have supervised you were there on the table. When British interests came to Libya I used to put you on the table. I personally was supervising this issue," he said.

"During all visits of former British prime minister Tony Blair, frankly speaking, a big work started in public and secretly for your release. The Libyan-British trade and political interests were aimed to release you," he said.

'No deal'
Officials with Britain's Foreign Office told Sky News that there had been "no deal."

"All decisions relating to al-Megrahi's case have been made exclusively by the Scottish ministers, the Crown Office in Scotland, and the Scottish judicial authorities," a spokesman said.

"No deal has been made between the U.K. government and Libya in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interests in the country."

Since Moammar Gadhafi renounced terrorism, Western energy companies — including Britain's BP — have moved into Libya in an effort to tap the country's vast oil and gas wealth.

Meanwhile, other new television footage showed the Libyan leader welcoming al-Megrahi with a hug. He also praised Scottish politicians for "their courageously right and humanitarian decision" to release him.

Gadhafi's meeting Friday with al-Megrahi is sure to fuel the debate about how Libya should be treating the man they once turned over for trial.

Al-Megrahi returned to Libya Thursday after Scottish officials announced he was being freed on compassionate grounds because he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. The decision to free al-Megrahi has been met with condemnation by many of the victims' families and the U.S. which has called for him to be put under house arrest.

The U.S. and Britain were also outraged at the warm welcome al-Megrahi received at the airport when he arrived in Tripoli, where he was met by a crowd of hundreds, some who threw flower petals.

Gadhafi hugged al-Megrahi, who at one point kissed the Libyan leader's hand, before sitting down with the former Libyan intelligence agent and his family. Gadhafi lauded Scotland for their decision in the first official reaction by Libya to the release.

"To my friends in Scotland; the Scottish National Party, and Scottish Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary, I praise their courage for having proved their independence in decision making, despite the unacceptable and unreasonable pressures they faced. Nevertheless, they took this courageously right and humanitarian decision," he said.

Gadhafi went on to cite "my friend (Gordon) Brown, the prime minister of Britain, his government, the queen of Britain, Elizabeth, and Prince Andrew, who all contributed to encouraging the Scottish government to take this historic and courageous decision, despite the obstacles."

Gadhafi compared al-Megrahi's return to his government's 2007 release of five Bulgarian nurses and a naturalized Palestinian doctor imprisoned on charges of deliberately infecting with HIV more than 400 Libyan children. The nurses denied the charges and said they were tortured into confessing.

The Libyan leader noted there were no such widespread concerns for the families of the infected children when the nurses returned home to a hero's welcome.

"Do we not have feelings and they have feelings?" Gadhafi said.

Libya has accepted formal responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, but many there see al-Megrahi as an innocent victim scapegoated by the West.

Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted in the explosion, which killed all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground and was Britain's worst terrorist attack.

He has maintained his innocence even as he dropped his appeal as part of the process that eventually allowed him to be released from prison.

'They have hatred for me'
During an interview Friday with The Times of London in his Tripoli home, al-Megrahi said he had abandoned his appeal in order to spend the rest of what time he had left at home with his family. Al-Megrahi also promised that before he died he would put forward what he described as evidence that would exonerate him of the crimes he's accused of, but gave no further details.

Al-Megrahi insisted that Libya was not to blame for the Lockerbie bombing, but refused to speculate on who he thought was the real culprit.

He said he had not told his 86-year-old mother that he is terminally ill. The newspaper said he had requested that reporters didn't tell her of his condition.

Al-Megrahi told the Times that he understood why many of the victims' relatives were angry at his release.

"They have hatred for me. It's natural to behave like this," he said. "They believe I'm guilty which in reality I'm not. One day the truth won't be hiding as it is now. We have an Arab saying: 'The truth never dies'."

When asked about Obama's suggestion that al-Megrahi be subject to house arrest for the duration of his time in Libya, al-Megrahi laughed and told the newspaper that the only place he had to go was the hospital.

A newspaper photograph showed the 57-year-old wearing a white flowing robe, surrounded by his smiling family.

Al-Megrahi's trial, which came after years of diplomatic maneuvering, was a step toward normalizing relations between the West and Libya, which spent years under U.N. sanctions because of the Lockerbie bombing.

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