US welcomes British PM`s statement on Lockerbie bomber hearing

The US has questioned oil company BP Plc influence on Lockerbie release.

Updated: Jul 22, 2010, 12:29 PM IST

Washington: The US has welcomed a statement of British Prime Minister David Cameron that his government would engage constructively with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which has scheduled a hearing on Lockerbie bomber.

"We welcome the (British) Prime Minister`s statements that his government will engage constructively, with the upcoming Senate hearings," State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley told reporters at his daily news conference.

At a joint news conference at the White House on Tuesday, Cameron had said he has asked the Cabinet secretary to go back through all of the paperwork and see if more needs to be published about the background to the decision of Scottish authorities to release Abdel Basset Mohamed
al-Megrahi, the Libyan official who was convicted of orchestrating the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.

"We continue also to be in touch with Scottish authorities, who have pledged similar cooperation," Crowley said.

"As the President (Barack Obama) said yesterday, we will support the relevant facts being made available both through steps that the British and Scottish governments take and also through the upcoming Senate hearings," he added.

Meanwhile, Senator Bob Menendez, in an interview to CNN, said BP hired and used a former MI-16 British intelligence officer to speak to former Justice Minister of Great Britain Jack Straw for the purposes of saying that, look, the deal between BP and Libya is in danger if you don`t get this prisoner transfer agreement approved.

"Now, it is hard to believe -- and that Jack Straw ultimately told the Scottish government that al-Megrahi could be included in that prisoner transfer agreement.”

“Now, although the Scottish government ultimately didn`t choose to use that, but their compassionate provisions for releasing a prisoner as the basis under which they released al-Megrahi, you`ve got to wonder, you know, of all those, whatever prisoners there were, that the prize for the Libyans was al- Megrahi," Menendez said.

"So all of these connections, whether BP was actually advocating for the release of al-Megrahi in order to ensure that it got the contract, you know, that`s an issue that we need to know as well.”

“You know, this is all why we asked Prime Minister Cameron to conduct an independent inquiry so that we could get to the truth in his country and next week we will have a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We`ll try to see what witnesses are willing to come forth and do our own efforts at trying to arrive at what that truth is," he said.

Another Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told the MSNBC news that the US government has enough tolls to investigate BP`s role into the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

On Tuesday, Cameron had ruled out such an investigation, even though four US Senators from New York and New Jersey and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had urged the British Government to do so.

"Well, we urged him (Cameron) to do a full investigation of the facts. Because right now this looks like a miscarriage of justice. It looks like this terrorist has gone free on grounds that may well have been based on fraudulent information.”

"And so we want a full investigation. We want the facts, and we need transparency. We need transparency on this issue," she said.

Gillibrand also urged the Obama administration to conduct its own investigation. "The US government does have tools available to it. For example, we have laws that govern businesses that do business in the United States. One law is called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

“We can do an investigation through the Department of Justice into whether there was fraud committed, if there was something exchanged for the release of this prisoner as part of this oil deal," she said.


Salmond turns on Blair

Salmond criticised former prime minister Tony Blair, telling BBC radio that Blair was negotiating on prisoner exchanges with Libya at the same time as discussing business deals in 2007 in what the Scottish leader called a "tainted process”.

"I think it was deeply unfortunate that you should negotiate a prisoner transfer agreement on a judicial matter on the same day that you sign an agreement on oil exploration and concessions," Salmond said. "But that`s what the then Prime Minister Tony Blair did in June 2007."

Blair visited Libya in late May 2007, a few weeks before he stood down as prime minister. At that time, BP signed a major natural gas exploration agreement with Libya`s state-owned National Oil Corporation.

Blair`s office disputed Salmond`s version of events, pointing out that the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya was finalized only in 2009, after Blair had left office, and was not a factor in Megrahi`s release.

"This is a rather unsubtle attempt by Alex Salmond to drag Tony Blair into a decision that was actually taken by the Scottish Executive more than two years after he stopped being Prime Minister," said a spokesman for Blair.

"Megrahi`s release had nothing to do with the Prisoner Transfer Agreement which was instead part of a proposed package of agreements that would help deepen judicial and law enforcement cooperation between the UK and Libya, improving the UK`s security and helping our national counter-terrorism effort," he added.

BP has confirmed it lobbied the then Labour government in late 2007 to express concern over slow progress in finalizing the prisoner agreement. BP has said it knew this could hurt a BP offshore oil drilling deal requiring approval by Libya.

Bureau Report