The story evokes an eerie feeling of déjà vu, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The case of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the so-called “Lockerbie bomber” released from a Scottish jail last year, resurrects the spectre corporate greed corrupting the course of justice. Even worse, it has firmly returned to the spotlight the unethical and potentially illegal actions taken by the very same corporate giant held responsible for the spill — BP.
With the case rapidly spilling across the Atlantic and threatening to spark a diplomatic row, this week saw United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling British Foreign Secretary William Hague to impress upon him the deep concern in the U.S. Congress over the role of BP in lobbying for the release of Mr. Megrahi last year.
Mr. Megrahi, charged with the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight to the United States, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, was transferred from jail to his native Tripoli, Libya, in August 2009. He had served a little more than eight years of a 20-year minimum jail sentence, but was released after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly one year on from his release he is still alive.
Yet with four Democratic Senators urging Ms. Clinton to look into his release further, she “signalled to the Foreign Secretary’s ongoing Congressional interest in this matter”, said Philip Crowley of the State Department, on Friday evening. He added that both the Secretary and the Foreign Secretary “agreed that in our mutual views, the release of Mr. Megrahi last year was a mistake”.
What prompted this rare admission of guilt by the U.K. government was the revelation that a major prisoner transfer agreement with Libya was signed by the former Labour government in 2007 in the very same year that BP inked a $900 million oil exploration agreement with Libya. Further, BP admitted to lobbying the erstwhile U.K. government to get the prisoner deal signed.
Questioning medical advice
Outlining some of the key concerns on the U.S. side prior to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Washington next week, Mr. Crowley said in a press briefing that there were questions regarding the medical advice — “who gave it, how was it considered, how did the Scottish authorities reach a judgment that on humanitarian grounds, based on an understanding that Mr. Megrahi had a relatively short time to live?”
Mr. Crowley added, “And clearly, some questions have been raised about the fidelity of the medical information that entered into the Scottish authorities’ thinking… On the other hand, there are questions about BP and its contacts with the U.K. government… in an earlier timeframe regarding the negotiation of a prisoner transfer agreement between the U.K. and Libya.”