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Tess Vigeland: Tomorrow, Libya will mark the first anniversary of its controversial release of the Lockerbie Bomber. Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi was serving a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. 270 people — most of them Americans — died in the attack. But last year, Al-Megrahi was set free from a Scottish jail after just eight years. Now, a Senate committee is investigating whether the release happened for business reasons To benefit the British oil giant BP.
From London, Stephen Beard reports.
Stephen Beard: It was billed as an act of compassion. One year ago, Scotland’s Justice Minister Kenny Makasgill released the Lockerbie Bomber on the grounds that he had less than three months to live.
Justice Minister Kenny Makasgill: On the basis of the medical evidence given to me, I’ve returned him to Libya to die.
But one year later, Al-Megrahi still isn’t dead. The decision to set him free now looks naive at best. Professor Robert Kirby is a cancer specialist.
Robert Kirby: It was a big mistake to let him out on the premise that he would be dead within three months. That was always likely to end up to be embarrassingly wrong.
Kirby says the decision did not take into account the obvious possibility that Al-Megrahi would receive chemotherapy in Libya. Critics claim that the release is incredibly suspect — especially since Britain’s biggest oil company BP has acquired drilling rights in Libya.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez is chairing a Senate investigation raising questions about the case.
Senator Robert Menendez: What were the circumstances that led to Al-Megrahi’s release? Did BP play a role in those factors because of a deal with Libya to the tune of $900 million?
BP points out that it signed its deal with Libya two years before Al-Megrahi was set free. And it denies it ever lobbied for his release. But skeptics say that even after signing the deal, BP would still need to curry favour with the Libyan regime. And Senator Menendez claims there is evidence of lobbying by BP representatives.
Menendez: There is a business group of which BP is one of the prime sponsors that made a direct communication with the Scottish minister, and said that “We believe very strongly you should give Al-Megrahi a release.”
Sounds of cheers and whistles
These were the jubilant scenes in Tripoli when Al-Megrahi returned a year ago. More celebrations are scheduled tomorrow to mark the first anniversary of his return. More fuel for the Senate inquiry, more embarrassment for BP.
In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.