US senator seeks Lockerbie hearing in September

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A US senator on Thursday pressed outgoing BP chief Tony Hayward and other witnesses who snubbed a congressional hearing into the Lockerbie bomber's release to take lawmakers' questions in September.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez urged Hayward and others whose absence forced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to postpone a session set for Thursday to reconsider their decision and be present at a new hearing.

"My hope is that giving these witnesses a longer lead time will allow them to reconsider participating and to work the hearing into their schedules," Menendez said in a statement.

In earlier remarks, Menendez slammed Hayward's comment to reporters that he had ducked a key senate panel's hearing because he was too "busy."

"It must be nice to be too 'busy' negotiating a multi-million-dollar golden parachute to ignore a US Senate hearing examining whether Mr Hayward's company traded blood for oil," Menendez said in a statement.

"Frankly, I have no sympathy about the pace of Mr Hayward's schedule, and I will formally ask him to provide a date in September that perhaps isn't so hectic," said the senator, who represents New Jersey.

Menendez complained that BP had offered to send "a lower-ranking official with no particular knowledge of the company's talks with Libya to testify" and called that "a way to avoid providing the answers we need."

And he blasted Hayward for telling reporters at the company's London headquarters this week that BP's response to the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill had been a "model of good social corporate responsibility."

"A company that believes it is a 'model' of corporate social responsibility would agree that it is socially responsible to give full answers to the public and the victims' families," said Menendez.

Menendez had been set to chair a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on BP's alleged role in Scotland's decision last August to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only man convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people -- most of them Americans.

Authorities freed Megrahi on compassionate grounds after being assured he was suffering from terminal cancer and had three months to live -- but nearly a year later, he is alive in his native Libya.

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.

Menendez said he still hoped to hear from Hayward; BP consultant Mark Allen, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill; Dr Andrew Fraser, who diagnosed Megrahi; former British justice secretary Jack Straw, as well as a senior US diplomatic official.

© 2010 AFP

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