US officials in Scotland for Lockerbie talks

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Representatives of a US senate committee are to hold talks on Thursday with justice officials from the Scottish government about the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

The senate foreign relations committee, chaired by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, is investigating whether oil deals played a role in the decision to let Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi return to his homeland of Libya.

Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds in August 2009 as he was thought to have only three months to live due to terminal prostate cancer, outraging the US government and many relatives of Lockerbie victims.

But a spokesman for Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said the senate committee had not raised the issue of alleged business considerations when Megrahi was released.

"Senator Menendez and his colleagues' interest in the matter certainly seems to have waxed and waned," the spokesman said.

"It seemed to be non-existent at the time when it was revealed to the world there was this 'deal in the desert'."

The delegation which has travelled to Scotland does not include any lawmakers.

The US committee is to hold a hearing in the coming weeks to examine claims that oil giant BP played a part in securing Megrahi's release in a bid to safeguard a 900-million-dollar (700-million-euro) exploration deal with Libya.

BP and the British government deny this and the Scottish government has refused to send ministers to Washington to appear before the hearing.

Megrahi returned home to a hero's welcome in Libya, angering the mainly American relatives of the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, four days before Christmas in 1988.

© 2010 AFP

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