Thursday, 15 January 2009

Secret talks on deal to return Megrahi to Libya

[This is the headline over a front-page article by Lucy Adams in today's edition of The Herald. It reads:]

Official talks are being held in secret which could result in the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing dropping his appeal and being freed from Greenock Prison and sent back to Libya under a diplomatic deal.

The Herald can reveal today that senior civil servants from both the Westminster and Holyrood administrations have met a delegation from Tripoli to discuss how to resolve the impasse over Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.

It is understood an agreement could be reached within months which would see him serve the remainder of his 27-year sentence with his family in Libya.

Megrahi is suffering from advanced prostate cancer but has been denied bail by judges pending his appeal. The appeal is due to begin on April 27, but could last as long as 12 months because of the complexity of the case and volume of material to be examined.

However, while he wants to clear his name, it is far from certain that he would survive such a long appeal case, and now there is an opportunity for the UK and Libya to settle the matter away from the courts and through diplomatic channels.

According to Libyan officials, senior civil servants at Whitehall have actively "encouraged" them to apply for prisoner transfer for Megrahi - a move likely to be highly unpopular with campaigners and some of the relatives of the victims of the bombing, who want to hear the fresh evidence in open court.

A Libyan source said: "We have been encouraged to apply for the prisoner transfer option once the agreement is ratified, but there are concerns as to whether the UK Government can be trusted."

The Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) was signed off by a delegation from Tripoli and senior UK officials in November and is due to be ratified by the UK and Libyan parliaments in March.

It would take months for an agreement on such a transfer to be reached, partly because Megrahi is serving a life sentence and his case would have to be reviewed by the Scottish Prison Service and the Parole Board.

The final decision will ultimately lie with Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary - a point clarified last year during the very public argument which followed the Scottish Government's discovery that it had not been privy to the details of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi in May 2007 as part of the "deal in the desert".

While Whitehall officials denied the deal and subsequent PTA had anything to do with the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, the row between the Scottish and UK Governments highlighted the fact that it was about Megrahi.

Professor Robert Black, one of the architects of the original trial at Camp Zeist, said: "If this happens it will leave a stain on the Scottish criminal justice system because lots of people now believe there is something wrong with the conviction if he decides he wants to go home and is allowed no other options.

"But is that really the path a civilised legal system should be taking? Compelling him to go down that path would leave serious questions about the criminal justice system unanswered."

Neither the Foreign Office nor the Scottish Government is able to comment publicly on the fact they are encouraging an application for a transfer, such is the sensitivity of the case.

A UK Government spokesman said: "HM Government continues to engage positively with Libya, but it remains the case that any decision relating to an individual prisoner will be for Scottish ministers to take."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "There have been no recent meetings between Scottish Government officials and representatives of the Libyan government. However, if the Libyan officials were to seek further meetings for factual information, we would be happy to provide that.

"The meetings last year were purely to provide factual information. No encouragement or advice was given on any of the procedures open to Mr Megrahi."

[A further article headed "Libyan may not live to see conclusion of appeal: Try to clear name or return home: Megrahi faces decision" appears in the inside pages.

A leader headed "The Megrahi dilemma" ends with the following paragraph:

'Megrahi's return home under the PTA might seem a neat solution but it ignores several factors. Megrahi continues to plead innocence and wants to clear his name (the main witness against him has been largely discredited). Testing all the evidence, including the secret document, in an appeal hearing offers the best hope of establishing the truth about the Lockerbie bombing. The opportunity will be gone if there is no appeal. The prospect of securing any subsequent convictions, should that be a possibility, would be remote as the world has moved on and relations with the countries suspected of involvement, including Libya, Iran and Syria, have changed. If, however, the integrity and independence of the Scottish judicial system is paramount, the appeal process should be allowed to run its course and make a final determination. Justice should be blind, not thwarted by political or diplomatic convenience.'

The issue has also been raised in the Scottish Parliament. The exchange between Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Tory group and First Minister Alex Salmond can be read here.]

1 comment:

  1. MEBO proposal:

    For humanitarian and medical reasons the judges at the High Court in Edinburgh allow Mr. Abdelbaset Al Megrahi to leave Scotland for medical treatment in Switzerland. Mr Megrahis family will also get permission to stay with him in Switzerland.

    The Swiss governement is already in contact with Scotland via legal international assistance in this case and would guarantee the Scottish authorities to hand over Mr Megrahi for his second appeal, if his state of health permits it.

    by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd. Switzerland