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US paid reward to Lockerbie witness, legal papers claim

London – A key witness in the conviction of the Lockerbie bomber was secretly paid up to USD two million (EUR 1.4 million) in a deal approved by the US government, according to legal papers released Friday.

The claims were made in new documents published by Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, which he maintains prove he is innocent of the 1988 bombing of a passenger jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people.

Megrahi abandoned an appeal against his conviction for the bombing after the Scottish government released him from prison last month on compassionate grounds because he is terminally ill with prostate cancer.

His lawyers said the documents released on the website www.megrahimystory.net were not produced at the trial but would have been used in an appeal.

Megrahi, who is being treated in a Libyan hospital, said: "I continue to protest my innocence — how could I fail to do so?"

The documents show that the US Department of Justice was asked to pay USD two million to Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold clothing found to have been in the suitcase that contained the bomb.

US authorities were also asked to pay Gauci’s brother Paul USD one million for his role in identifying the clothing, although he did not give evidence at the trial.

The previously secret payments were uncovered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

The SCCRC found the information about the request for payments in the private diaries of detectives in the case, but not in their official notebooks.

It was unable to establish exactly how much the brothers received under the Department of Justice’s "reward-for-justice" programme but records show they received "substantial payments" after Megrahi’s trial.

Megrahi was convicted in January 2001 at an extraordinary Scottish court convened in the Netherlands. He mounted an unsuccessful appeal in 2002 and in 2007 the SCCRC sent his case for a subsequent appeal.

He said Friday: "The commission found documents which they concluded ought to have been disclosed to my defence."

The papers also cast doubt on evidence relating to Megrahi’s visit to Tony Gauci’s shop days before the bombing.

New evidence suggested the clothing had been bought before 6 December, at a time when there was no evidence that Megrahi was in Malta, said the SCCRC.

It also emerged that Scottish policed failed to tell Megrahi’s lawyers that another witness, David Wright, had seen two different Libyan men buying similar clothes in Malta on a different day.

Psychologists believe this may have confused Gauci and impaired the prosecution case.

A spokesman for the Scottish government said Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill "supports" Megrahi’s conviction but stood by his decision to free him.

Relatives of the US victims of the bombing were furious at Megrahi’s release, while President Barack Obama expressed his "disappointment" at the decision.