Scottish leader defends Lockerbie release, denies BP links

21st July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond insisted Wednesday he did not regret releasing the Lockerbie bomber last year and said that oil giant BP had nothing to do with the deal.

The leader of Scotland's devolved government defended the decision to free Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi amid renewed anger in the United States and allegations that the release formed part of a BP oil deal with Libya.

"If you take a decision in good faith, you don't regret it," Salmond told BBC radio, the day after the row threatened to overshadow British Prime Minister David Cameron's talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington.

Megrahi, 58, is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people, the majority of them Americans.

His release sparked condemnation in the United States and this has been renewed amid claims from US lawmakers that BP -- already under fire over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill -- may have lobbied Britain for Megrahi's release.

Salmond rejected this, however, pointing out that allegations over BP's involvement concerned a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) signed by the British government with Libya in 2007 at the same time as BP agreed a massive oil deal.

The Scottish government had refused to free Megrahi under the PTA and instead released him on compassionate grounds because he had terminal prostate cancer and was believed to have only months to live.

Almost one year later, however, he remains alive in Libya.

Salmond said his government had opposed the PTA saying its proximity to the BP oil agreement with Libya sparked suspicions of "deals in the desert" and stressed this was separate from Scotland's policy of compassionate release.

"As far as the Scottish government is concerned we had no contact with BP, either written or verbal, as far as the process of compassionate release was concerned," the first minister said.

In a separate interview late Tuesday, he stressed: "BP did not lobby the Scottish government in any way, in any sense whatsoever."

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, who took the final decision to free Megrahi last August, has also defended the move.

"We believe that justice has to be served but mercy must be capable of being shown," he told BBC Scotland on Wednesday.

Scotland forms part of Britain, but under its devolved system of government Scottish ministers have control over their own justice matters.

Cameron said in Washington that he had seen no evidence to suggest the decision to free Megrahi had been influenced by BP.

Despite his view that the decision to release the bomber was "completely wrong," Cameron added: "I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Scottish government were in any way swayed by BP."

© 2010 AFP

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