Thursday, 29 April 2010

Shell drafted letter Tony Blair sent to Gaddafi while Prime Minister

[This is the headline over a report published on 27 April 2010 on the website of The Times. It reads in part:]

Tony Blair lobbied Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on behalf of Shell in a letter written for him in draft form by the oil company, documents obtained by The Times reveal.

The correspondence, written while Mr Blair was Prime Minister, bears a striking resemblance to a briefing note by Royal Dutch Shell weeks earlier promoting a $500 million (£325 million) deal it was trying to clinch in Libya.

While it is common for government ministers to champion British interests abroad, Shell’s draft reveals an unusual assurance in its ability to dictate Mr Blair’s conversation with the Libyan leader. It also raises questions about the motives behind Britain’s improved relations with Libya and the subsequent release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber. Lockerbie victims have claimed that the Government paved the way for al-Megrahi’s release as part of a deal with Libya to give British companies access to Libya’s lucrative oil and gas industry.

In the draft, Shell tells Mr Blair to discuss positive progress on weapons of mass destruction as well as the investigation into the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984. (...)

The Cabinet Office would release only a part of Mr Blair’s official letter but the section on Shell sounds very similar to the draft. “I understand that the necessary technical discussions with the relevant authorities in Libya have been completed satisfactorily,” it states. “All that is needed now are final decisions by the [Libyan] General People’s Committee to go ahead.” The Libyan Cabinet agreed the Shell deal shortly after this letter was written and the contract was signed in May 2005.

Both letters were released after a lengthy Freedom of Information process. The Times first asked for them after al-Megrahi was released last August on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government, which said that he had only months to live.

Al-Megrahi, who killed 270 people on board Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, celebrated his 58th birthday in Tripoli last month. There was speculation that his release was part of a deal struck between Britain and Libya to improve diplomatic ties between the countries.

The Government denied this, although it emerged that Britain and Libya had signed a prisoner transfer deal in 2007 that included al-Megrahi. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time, said that al-Megrahi had been included in the transfer deal “in view of the overwhelming interests of the UK”. (...)

Last September The Times requested all communication between the Department for Business and these companies. A limited number were released in December. One was an email from Shell to UK Trade & Investment dated September 2004 complaining of slow progress with its Libyan deal. Just months earlier Mr Blair and Colonel Gaddafi had met in a tent outside Tripoli to end Libya’s diplomatic isolation.

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