Senator says Lockerbie investigators may travel to Britain

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A US senator said Thursday investigators could be sent to Britain to quiz witnesses who refused to travel to Washington to testify at a Senate probe into the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Key witnesses -- including Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, former British justice secretary Jack Straw and BP boss Tony Hayward -- snubbed the Senate hearing and forced it to be postponed.

But Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who had been set to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee session on Thursday before it was delayed, said some people had offered to be interviewed in Britain.

The senator, who represents New Jersey, told BBC television that sending investigators to Britain was now being examined.

"In addition to making a request for them to come to the hearings we will be... having someone travel abroad to Great Britain and to Scotland," he said.

When there, investigators hoped "to interview the individuals and to ask questions and get a fair understanding of how they came to their decisions," he added.

Menendez has rescheduled the hearing for September and urged the witnesses to attend.

The probe had been set to examine BP's alleged role in the case, amid renewed US anger over Scotland's decision to free cancer-stricken Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi in August 2009.

He is still alive almost a year later, despite doctors at the time saying he only had three months to live.

The Senate hearing had been set to examine whether BP had improperly lobbied for Megrahi's release in order to safeguard a 900-million-dollar oil exploration deal with Libya.

The oil giant and British and Scottish officials have denied the charge.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said Thursday his ministers would be willing to meet with US lawmakers if they travelled to Britain, but said they would never testify to a US Senate hearing held here.

"If an American senator, Senator Menendez, wants to come to Scotland... then the chances are that we would extend him the courtesy of a meeting," he said.

But he added there was "no way on earth" that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would hold a hearing in London or Scotland.

"It's a point of principle that you are not responsible to the committee of another parliament, and that would apply regardless of where that committee was meeting," he added.

He also expressed anger at the continued US pressure for Scotland to send MacAskill to the Senate hearing, saying American ministers would never bow to such demands from another country.

"You shouldn't ask other people to do things that your own government would never dream of in history," said Salmond.

Megrahi was the only man convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people -- most of them Americans.

MacAskill took the decision to release him on compassionate grounds after being assured he was suffering from terminal cancer.

© 2010 AFP

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