US Senate to examine Lockerbie bomber release

image captionSenators want an investigation into whether BP lobbied for the transfer of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

Politicians in the US will hold a hearing into whether BP lobbied the UK to try to secure the release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish jail.

The Senate's foreign relations committee said the meeting would take place on 29 July to examine the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill allowed the ill bomber to return to Libya last August.

The committee wants BP to answer claims about an oil deal based on the release.

It is said that officials of the oil giant lobbied British officials to release Megrahi, convicted following the explosion of a jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, so that it could secure an offshore oil project with Libya.

BP has denied making any representations over his case.

Meanwhile, Britain's envoy to the United States, Nigel Sheinwald, has said the new UK government thought Scotland's decision to free the bomber was "a mistake".

The 1988 bombing of the Pan Am plane resulted in 259 being killed on board and a further 11 on the ground.

Mr MacAskill released Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he was said to be suffering from terminal cancer and had only three months to live.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a request on Thursday from four senators asking for the alleged involvement of BP to be examined.

Earlier this month senators sought a probe into how the release decision was made.

One of the senators, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said the current Gulf of Mexico oil disaster highlighted shortcomings at BP that made the allegations over Lockerbie more credible.

Oil spilling

He said: "Americans have seen the evidence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and it seems to show that BP is capable of putting profits ahead of people.

"They ignored safety precautions and low-balled the estimates of oil spilling in the Gulf.

"If that's how they operate then it is within the realm of possibility that they put profits ahead of justice in the murder of 270 innocent people."

Another of the senators, Chuck Schumer of New York, called on the company to freeze its project in Libya, pending an investigation.

"If BP is truly dealing in good faith and has nothing to hide, it should co-operate with such an investigation," he said.

"So should the British government, so should the Scottish government.

"The companies should not be allowed to profit on this deal if it was facilitated at the expense of the victims of terrorism."

'No representations'

A prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) was agreed between the UK government and Libya in late 2007.

BP has confirmed it did press for a PTA because it was aware that a delay might have "negative consequences" for UK commercial interests.

However, it said it did not express a view about the specific form of the agreement which was a matter for the UK and Libyan governments.

It added that it had not made representations over the Megrahi case, which was solely a matter for the Scottish government.

The Scottish government said BP did not lobby its ministers, and insisted Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds alone.

A spokesman said: "The Scottish government had no contact from BP in relation to Mr Al-Megrahi.

"The issues being raised in the United States at present regarding BP refer to the Prisoner Transfer Agreement negotiated by the governments of the UK and Libya, and therefore have nothing to do with the decision on compassionate release which is a totally different process, based on entirely different criteria.

"We were always totally opposed to the prisoner transfer agreement negotiated between the UK and Libyan governments.

"The memorandum that led to the PTA was agreed without our knowledge and against our wishes."

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