Thursday, 9 June 2011

Prologue to Aljazeera Lockerbie documentary

[I am grateful to Marcello Mega for allowing me to reproduce the following article, versions of which appeared today in the Scottish editions of The Times, the Daily Mail and The Sun:]

The former Lord Advocate who issued the indictment against the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has accepted there is clear evidence that the key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper, was promised a fortune for his testimony.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC, who was Scotland’s most senior prosecutor until 1993, announced in November 1991 that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were wanted for the murder of 270 people on 21 December 1988.

Presented with documents showing that Scottish police officers and FBI agents had discussed as early as September 1989, ‘an offer of unlimited money to Tony Gauci, with $10,000 being available immediately’, Lord Fraser said: “I have to accept that it happened. It shouldn’t have and I was unaware of it.”

The former law officer said: “I remember a time when things were warming up and there was talk from the US about sending a squad into Tripoli to seize the suspects, rather as they did with Noriega in Panama.

“I had to warn them that if that happened there would never be a trial in any Scottish or UK court. I also warned our investigators that the eyes of the world were on us, and everything had to be done by the book.

“It would be unacceptable to offer bribes, inducements or rewards to any witness in a routine murder trial in Glasgow or Dundee, and it is obviously unacceptable to have done it in the biggest case of mass murder ever carried out in Europe.”

Lord Fraser said he had been asked before about allegations of inducements offered to Gauci, but had never before been presented with evidence of it.

Gauci was absolutely central to Megrahi’s conviction because the clothes recovered from the suitcase that carried the bomb onto Pan Am 103 at Heathrow, bound for New York, were traced back to his shop.

Although he never stated that Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes, his numerous statements and testimony in court saying he resembled the buyer was accepted as proof of his guilt by the three Scottish judges who sentenced him to life in 2001.

Megrahi was diagnosed with prostate cancer and released on compassionate grounds to die at home in August 2009, but remains alive almost two years later.

Evidence of the inducements made to Gauci has emerged during an investigation by a team working for Network Features on a new documentary on the questions that still surround the bombing.

Among the material unearthed are records of diary entries made by retired Detective Chief Inspector Harry Bell of Strathclyde Police. He was the Scottish officer with regular close contact with Gauci after the bomb-damaged clothes were traced to his shop.

At Megrahi’s trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Scottish detectives involved in the case were asked whether Gauci had ever been offered inducements for his testimony, and all denied it.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission conducted its own investigation into the case, which resulted in it being referred back for a second appeal - abandoned when Megrahi was freed. Unlike the trial court, it required police officers to produce notebooks and diaries.

Harry Bell’s diary reveals that reward money was discussed from September 1989 onwards, within days of Gauci being traced.

An extract quoted by the SCCRC from February 1991 reveals that Gauci was being treated to an expensive holiday. He wanted to invite his father along but was concerned about how to explain his ability to pay for it.

The diary extract says: “He was told to suggest the National Lotto as having won a prize.”

Also in February 1991, Bell told Det Chief Supt Jim Gilchrist, who was then the Senior Investigating Officer in the case, in a memo that ‘Tony Gauci has expressed interest in receiving money in recent meetings’.

The Commission also reported that Gauci’s brother, Paul, who made important witness statements, ‘had a clear desire to gain financial benefit’, and that ‘the US authorities offered to make substantial payments to Tony Gauci at an early stage’.

Its report confirms that after the trial, Tony Gauci received more than $2m and his brother more than $1m in reward money.

This contradicts assurances given publicly on many occasions by Richard Marquise, the lead FBI officer on Lockerbie, that ‘no witness in this case was ever promised or paid any money in return for their testimony’.

The Network Features investigation also reveals that key pieces of evidence originated in police laboratories and were introduced artificially to the chain of evidence, and that witness statements that interrupted the chain were altered or suppressed.

Gauci and Bell declined to be interviewed for the programme.

Lockerbie: The Pan Am Bomber? is broadcast tonight (Thursday 9th) on Al Jazeera English at 9pm.

[Today's Aljazeera English schedule can be viewed here.]

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