[This is the headline over the lead story in today's edition of the Maltese newspaper The Independent on Sunday. It reads as follows:]
Just when Malta thought it may have been seeing the infamy attached to it by way of the Lockerbie disaster subsiding, Scottish prosecutors are looking into the prospect of retrying acquitted Lockerbie bomber Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah.
The prospect, if realised, would reopen an ugly chapter in recent Maltese history as having been alleged to be the place where the bomb, concealed in a suitcase, was first loaded. The bomb was eventually loaded aboard Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in Christmas 1988 killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.
But the Scottish authorities appear unwilling to let the matter die a natural death following the acquittal and the subsequent guilty verdict and release of the second accused person, and rightly so seeing that a new legal window has now opened up.
A change in double jeopardy laws now provides the possibility of an accused person to stand trial a second time if compelling new evidence surfaces, and a specialist unit at the Crown Office in Edinburgh is in the process of re-examining the evidence against Mr Fhimah to ascertain the potential strength of such a case.
Mr Fhimah, a former station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta, had been accused of helping Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi place the bomb into the luggage system at Malta International Airport, where it was claimed the bomb’s fateful journey had begun.
Mr Fhimah had been acquitted in the Lockerbie trial at The Hague in 2001 after his defence argued the case against him was nothing more than “inference upon inference upon inference upon inference leading to an inference”.
Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the co-accused, had been convicted and the rest of his story is by now well known. He was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 just before he was about to appeal his guilty verdict, on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and had only a short time left to live. He is still alive.
But more than merely seeking once again to bring Mr Fhimah to justice, the Crown Office believes that the collapse of Libya’s Gaddafi regime could provide evidence for still further Lockerbie prosecutions.
Scottish prosecutors recently interviewed Libyan defector Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former foreign minister and intelligence chief, when he was on British soil, and it is believed a number of questions about Mr Fhimah had been raised during the interview.
In an interview with The Times of London, the new Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, QC, appealed for Koussa’s fellow high-ranking Libyan defector, former justice minister Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, to come forward with information on the bombing. Mr Abdul Jalil, who is now the head of the provisional Libyan government in Benghazi, had said in a number of interviews that he had evidence of Gaddafi’s involvement in the 1988 bombing.
In one interview, he had told Swedish newspaper Expressen that Gaddafi had personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing. “I have proof that Gaddafi gave the order about Lockerbie,” he said, but did not describe the proof.
“To hide it, he [Gaddafi] did everything in his power to get al-Megrahi back from Scotland,” Abdel-Jalil was quoted as saying.
Mr Mulholland meanwhile told The Times of London in the interview, “I cannot send our investigators into an unsafe place but he [Fhimah] could pick up the phone. [RB: Surely the "he" Mulholland is referring to is Abdel-Jalil.] If he has relevant information on Lockerbie we would be delighted to see it.
“If a meeting can be arranged we would be prepared to see him in another country. The interview with Moussa Koussa was easier to arrange because he was in UK jurisdiction so it was quicker.”
[As I have said before on this blog, there will be no re-trial of Lamin Fhimah or any trial of Colonel Gaddafi for the bombing of Pan Am 103. The Crown Office is perfectly well aware that the evidence simply does not exist to make a conviction a realistic prospect; and that the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi on the evidence led at Zeist was a travesty perpetrated by a credulous court which has long since been exposed, by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission amongst many others.]