London, Feb 1 (IANS) British government ministers secretly advised Libya on securing the successful early release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison, according to the US documents released by WikiLeaks.
A Foreign Office minister sent Libyan officials detailed legal advice on how to use Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s cancer diagnosis to ensure he was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, the WikiLeaks documents published by the Daily Telegraph show.
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, is also said to have played a behind-the-scenes role in encouraging the terrorist’s release.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the revelations confirm that while his administration acted according to its public pronouncements on the affair, then British government of prime minister Tony Blair was behaving duplicitously.
“The cables … show that the former British government were playing false on the issue, with a different public position from their private one,” said a statement released by Salmond’s office.
According to the daily, the Libyans closely followed the advice which led to the controversial release of al-Megrahi — who was convicted of the murder of 270 passengers on Pan-Am Flight 103 — within months of the Foreign Office’s secret intervention.
The documents — released by the WikiLeaks website — provide the first comprehensive picture of the often desperate steps taken by western governments to court the Libyan regime in the competition for valuable trade and oil contracts.
The documents disclose in detail how British ministers and officials were desperate not to allow Libyan anger over the ongoing imprisonment of al-Megrahi to derail the growing commercial relationship between the two countries.
Al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer who is now living in Libya, was imprisoned in 2001 for life after being found guilty of bombing Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie town of Scotland in 1988.
He was imprisoned in Scotland and any decision on his release was for the Scottish authorities although Westminster drew up the relevant legislation.
In October 2008 — as negotiations on the prisoner transfer agreement were ongoing — al-Megrahi was diagnosed as suffering from cancer.
Within a week of the diagnosis, Bill Rammell, the then junior Foreign Office minister, wrote to his Libyan counterpart advising him on how this could be used as the grounds for securing al-Megrahi’s release from prison on compassionate ground.
The documents also disclose that the Qatari government also became involved in the effort to secure al-Megrahi’s release. The Americans thought that the Qataris may have offered financial incentives to the Scottish government. The Libyans are also recorded to have offered a “parade of treats” to the Scottish government.
After al-Megrahi was set free in August 2009, another American document records Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s comments — which suggest that Prince Andrew, Britain’s trade envoy, may have played a role.
According to the daily, when Megrahi was finally released, it also emerged that former British premier Gordon Brown instructed the British ambassador to hand deliver a note to Gaddafi.
The letter was ostensibly to ask the Libyan leader not to lionise the released terrorist. But the delivery of the letter also presented British officials with the opportunity for a rare private meeting with Gaddafi. He usually only sees very senior foreign politicians and dignitaries.