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BP to drill for Libyan oil despite Lockerbie bomber furor

BP said it planned to start drilling off the Libyan coast within weeks despite calls from U.S. senators for a moratorium over alleged links to the Lockerbie bomber's release.
Image: Libyans greeting freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi
Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi received a hero's welcome when he arrived in Tripoli, Libya, on Aug. 20, 2009.AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Oil giant BP said Thursday that it planned to start drilling off the coast of Libya within weeks despite calls from U.S. senators for a moratorium over the company's alleged links to the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told NBC’s TODAY on Thursday that the U.K. government should investigate what role the company played in the decision to free Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in August 2009.

"We want a moratorium on the drilling [by BP] off Libya's coast. We believe BP should not be allowed to drill until we have resolution of this," she told the show.

Al-Megrahi, 57, is the only person convicted of carrying out the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

He was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government after doctors said he was likely just months from death. Nearly a year later, he remains alive.

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 has admitted that it 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.

Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also speaking on TODAY, said: "The whole thing has deep circumstantial evidence that points to the fact that there was a trade-off — release the terrorist in exchange for an oil contract."

"It also says that our war on terrorism — this is one of the worst terrorists of the last century — can be traded off for blood money," he added.

BP told Thursday that it planned to press ahead with its exploration of the area.

"The rig is on location. It is being made ready and going through final tests," BP spokesman Robert Wine said.

"We are planning to start drilling within the next few weeks," he added.

British government officials issued a statement saying that the release of al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison was "a mistake," but denied that oil interests had influenced the decision, NBC News reported.

'Great God of money'
Sue Cohen's daughter, Theo, was killed in the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie. In a telephone interview Thursday she told NBC News that she was "not surprised" by the recent revelations.

"There's no question in my mind that BP was involved," Cohen said. "The British government was very much influenced by the oil companies, and it's no coincidence that soon after the negotiations BP signed this enormously good deal."

"This was really a deal for business interests. Western governments seem to be run by one thing now — the great God money."

Cohen said she was glad to hear that U.S. senators had pushed for an investigation and hoped for further action from the government. Cohen also said she would like to see tougher punishment for Al-Megrahi, whether it was more jail time or house arrest in Libya.

"All that matters now is profits and money," Cohen said.

She said the "sliver of justice" families received had been take away. Cohen, who is 72, said she expected al-Megrahi will "be living in his luxurious villa in Libya long after I'm gone."

Other Pan Am 103 family members were outraged, including Bert Ammerman whose brother was killed in the bombing, and is one of the most visible spokespeople for the Pan Am 103 families.

'Profit ahead of people'
Earlier this week, Gillibrand, Schumer and two other senators — Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg — wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that the State Department investigate whether BP had a hand in the release.

"Evidence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster seems to suggest that BP would put profit ahead of people — its attention to safety was negligible and it routinely underestimated the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf," they wrote. "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?"

The aim of the State Department investigation, they wrote, would be to "fully determine the legitimacy of the decision to release this mass murderer and to fully understand the source of revenue streams for this corporation, which owes American taxpayers and coastal families billions of dollars."

Menendez and Lautenberg represent New Jersey and Gillibrand and Schumer represent New York. People from both states were among those who died in the Lockerbie bombing.

"I have received the [senators'] letter and we will obviously look into it," Clinton said in response to a reporter's question.

In a statement Thursday, BP re-iterated a previous admission about its role in the Libya-U.K. prisoner transfer deal.

"It is a matter of public record that in late 2007, BP told the U.K. government that we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya," BP said. "We were aware that this could have a negative impact on U.K. commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan government of BP's exploration agreement."

However, the firm insisted it was not involved in the decision to free the bomber.

"The decision to release al-Megrahi in August 2009 was taken by the Scottish government," the company said. "It is not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish government. BP was not involved in any such discussions with the U.K. government or the Scottish government about the release of al-Megrahi."