Scottish leader insists BP did not sway Lockerbie decision

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Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has insisted BP did not lobby the Scottish government "in any sense whatsoever" to persuade the administration to free the Lockerbie bomber last year.

The leader of Scotland's devolved government made the comments as British Prime Minister David Cameron was trying to stop a row over the release of the bomber overshadowing his debut White House talks with US President Barack Obama.

"BP did not lobby the Scottish government in any way, in any sense whatsoever," Salmond told BBC television late Tuesday.

"The point about the Scottish government is we followed due process to the letter on compassionate release," he added, referring to the reason given for freeing the bomber following his diagnosis with cancer.

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister whose ultimate decision it was to free Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, also insisted that he stood by his decision.

"I reflected and followed the rules and laws of Scotland, I upheld the values and the beliefs that we seek to live by as the people of Scotland," he told the BBC earlier.

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

Cameron also said in Washington that he had not seen any evidence to suggest the decision to free Megrahi had been influenced by BP.

Despite his view that the decision to free 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."

He has agreed to meet during his visit with a group of US senators, who have been angered by reports BP had been pushing for the bomber's release to safeguard a lucrative oil deal with Libya.

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.

Freed last year after serving only eight years of a 27-year term, cancer-stricken Megrahi is still alive despite a doctor's assessment before his release that he had as little as three months to live.

A doctor who examined him was recently quoted as saying he could live for another 10 years.

Asked about reports suggesting the bomber may live longer than thought, Salmond responded: "I'm not a doctor, but I think it is entirely possible that somebody's life expectancy in a prison in Greenock (western Scotland) is somewhat shorter than the life expectancy on a progressive drug therapy in Tripoli."

© 2010 AFP

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