US Senate panel puts off Lockerbie hearing

A US Senate panel has put off a hearing on the Lockerbie bomber`s release because key British and Scottish witnesses refused to appear.

Washington: A US Senate panel has put off a hearing on the Lockerbie bomber`s release because key British and Scottish witnesses "stonewalled" and refused to appear, a lawmaker announced Tuesday.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who had been set to chair Thursday`s Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blasted the decision by former British and Scottish officials and top BP executive Tony Hayward to snub the hearing.

"They have stonewalled," he told a press conference. "We are at a place where no witnesses of consequence has the courage to step forward and clear the air. They would prefer to sweep this under the rug."

The hearing was to focus on BP`s alleged role in Scotland`s decision last August to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only man convicted over the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people -- most of them Americans.

Authorities freed Megrahi on compassionate grounds after being assured he suffered from terminal cancer and had three months to live -- but nearly a year later, he is alive in his native Libya.

Menendez said the hearing "will be postponed and rescheduled" but will now be coupled with a formal investigation into Megrahi`s release, and implied that witnesses who declined to appear had something to hide.

"Neither the British government nor the Scottish government nor the individuals directly, or BP, is willing to give us anyone. Well, that to me speaks volumes in and of itself," said the New Jersey senator.
"And it raises increasingly the questions as to that something is wrong here, when people who say they did absolutely nothing wrong -- that everything was done above board, that there was no undue influence -- are unwilling to come forth," he said.

Menendez said he had not given up on summoning Hayward, saying "there can be enough pressure generated" to get him before the committee and warned the oil giant that he would take its "sickening corporate irresponsibility into account whenever I look at future issues involving BP`s US operations."

Menendez said BP had offered its vice president in charge of Europe.

The hearing had been set to examine whether BP had improperly lobbied for Megrahi`s release to safeguard a 900-million-dollar oil explorations deal with Libya. The oil giant and British and Scottish officials have denied the charge.

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who joined Menendez in calling for the hearing, seemed downcast about the prospects for reversing the decision, saying "it`s hard to imagine that we could get him back into jail."

Bureau Report

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