LONDON – The British Government will publish its correspondence with Scottish ministers over releasing the Lockerbie bomber, a government spokeswoman said Monday, a day after a newspaper reported that officials believed a deal was in the U.K.’s “overwhelming interests.”
A spokeswoman at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office said all “relevant correspondence” between British ministers and the Scottish executive over Abdel Baset al-Megrahi would be released Tuesday, but would not give any more details. She spoke anomymously in line with government policy.
The Sunday Times reported that the British government allowed Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to be included in a prisoner transfer agreement because it was in the U.K.’s “overwhelming interests” as a major oil deal was being negotiated.
Jack Straw, Britain’s justice minister, had originally tried to ensure that al-Megrahi was exempted from any prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but in December 2007 he wrote MacAskill saying “wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in the view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom” a standard prisoner transfer agreement, that would apply to all prisoners with no exemptions, would be agreed to, the Times said.
The oil deal, the Times reported, was concluded six weeks later.
Al-Magrahi was released this month on compassionate grounds, instead of through a prisoner transfer agreemen. Scottish officials and British officials insist that there is no connection between any oil deals and al-Megrahi’s release.
“There was no deal over (the) release of al-Megrahi nor could there ever be, since all decisions were for the Scottish, not U.K. government,” Downing Street said in a statement released Monday. “The central assertion in this story is completely untrue and deeply misleading.”
Straw called any suggestion that there was a secret, backdoor deal “untrue” and called it “academic” because the Scottish government sent him to Tripoli on compassionate grounds rather than by transfer agreement.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the U.S would leave Britain to deal with the allegations. “It is up to the British government to work these things through. We have complete faith in the British system to air these allegations in a complete and transparent way,” he told reporters in Washington.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister, also told the BBC she didn’t know what agreements the British government had made, and said the decision of Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was based on legal principles.
“What I do know, and what I can state categorically … is that these deals – if such deals existed – played no part whatsoever in the decision that Kenny MacAskill took to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds,” Sturgeon said. “That was a decision taken entirely on justice grounds, and there were no influences relating to political or economic interests that played any part in that.”
MacAskill told reporters in Scotland that his “decision was based not on any political, economic or diplomatic considerations.”
Al-Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, is the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The explosion of a bomb hidden in the cargo hold killed all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground in Britain’s worst terrorist attack.