The release from a Scottish prison of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s, the man convicted of murder in the Lockerbie bomb plot, was facilitated by Libya’s then dictator, Muammar Gaddafi’s purchase of a $400 million air defense system.
Emails obtained by The Telegraph confirm confirm that the 2009 release of Megrahi came about as a result of a deal struck by the British Labor government of Tony Blair and Gaddafi.
An email sent by the then British ambassador in Tripoli details how a prisoner transfer agreement would be signed once Libya “fulfils its promise” to buy an air defence system.
The disclosure is embarrassing for members of the then Labour government, which always insisted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release was not linked to commercial deals.
The email, which contained a briefing on the UK’s relations with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, was sent on June 8 2008 by Sir Vincent Fean, the then UK ambassador, to Tony Blair’s private office, ahead of a visit soon after he stepped down as prime minister.
Mr Blair flew to Tripoli to meet Gaddafi on June 10, in a private jet provided by the dictator, one of at least six visits Mr Blair made to Libya after quitting Downing Street.
The briefing, which runs to 1,300 words, contains revealing details about how keen Britain was to do deals with Gaddafi. It also suggests that:
• the UK made it a key objective for Libya to invest its £80 billion sovereign wealth fund through the City of London
• the UK was privately critical of then President George Bush for “shooting the US in the foot” by continuing to put a block on Libyan assets in America, in the process scuppering business deals
• the Department for International Development was eager to use another Libyan fund worth £130 million to pay for schemes in Sierra Leone and other poverty-stricken countries.
The release of Megrahi in August 2009 caused a huge furore, with the Government insisting he had been released on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from terminal cancer, and that the decision was taken solely by the Scottish government.
Megrahi had been convicted in 2001 of the murder of 270 people when PanAm flight 103 from London to New York blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. It remains Britain’s single worst terrorist atrocity.
Libya had been putting pressure on the UK to release Megrahi and in May 2007, just before he left Downing Street, Mr Blair travelled to Sirte to meet Gaddafi and Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Libya’s then prime minister.
At that meeting, according to Sir Vincent’s email, Mr Blair and Mr Baghdadi agreed that Libya would buy the missile defence system from MBDA, a weapons manufacturer part-owned by BAE Systems. The pair also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA), which the Libyans believed would pave the way for Megrahi’s release.
Former Prime Minister Blair insists that it was never his decision to make, that the release of Megrahi was always in the hands of the Scottish government. While technically true, it’s a stretch to think that the Scots would have balked when asked to cooperate.
Although released on “compassionate grounds” in 2009, with “three months to live,” Megrahi lived until May of 2012.
The Brits apparently tried to resist Gaddafi’s insistence that Megrahi be one of the prisoners released in the deal, but the foreign office nixed that idea, urging the government to accede to Gaddafi’s wishes.
When Megrahi landed in Tripoli, he received a hero’s welcome from a large crowd that had gathered.
This is a case where the British government put its economic interests ahead of the interests of justice. And for how much? Four hundred million dollars seems a small price to pay for one’s principles.