The British government agreed to include Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya because of the “overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom,” a newspaper reported on Sunday. According to the Sunday Times, a leaked correspondence between Justice Secretary Jack Straw and his counterpart Kenny MacAskill confirmed that the decisions was made as part of “wider negotiations” between the United Kingdom and Libya.
The report says that al-Megrahi’s release was mentioned when discussions over a multi-million-dollar oil exploration deal between UK-based BP and Libya stalled. The deal, valued as much as $900 million, was announced in May 2007 but half a year later was not ratified. By December 2007, the issue was allegedly resolved after Straw wrote to MacAskill that he would permit the prison transfer.
“The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the [prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual,” he wrote in a letter.
According to the Sunday Times, “Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. The prisoner transfer agreement was finalised in May this year, leading to Libya formally applying for Megrahi to be transferred to its custody.”
Government critics have since called the letters proof that the release was commercially influenced. Government spokesmen, however, maintain that al-Megrahi was released on “compassionate grounds.” “Any suggestion that al Megrahi's release is related to a trade deal is completely without foundation,” a British Foreign Office representative told CNN.
Al-Megrahi, 57, was imprisoned and sentenced to life in prison in January 2001 after being charged with 270 counts of murder for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
On August 20, 2009, the Scottish Government released al-Megrahi on “compassionate grounds” following reports that he had terminal prostate cancer and had only months to live.