Monday, 1 August 2011

Moussa Koussa "threatened" David Milliband

[What follows is an excerpt from a report in today's edition of The Herald:]

Meanwhile, it has emerged in a leaked Scottish Government document that Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister warned the UK Government that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi’s incarceration in Scotland would cause “severe difficulties” for bilateral relations.

The Libyan politician’s threat was made during a conversation with the UK’s then Foreign Secretary David Miliband in March 2009, five months before the Libyan man jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was freed.

[It was already well known that Libya had let it be known to the UK government that failure to repatriate Megrahi would have consequences for UK-Libyan relations. It is interesting that this pressure was directed towards the UK government, in spite of the Libyan authorities having been informed, by me amongst others, that responsibility for deciding on prisoner transfer or compassionate release rested with the Scottish, not the UK, government. It would seem that the Libyans were still operating under the misapprehensions engendered by Tony Blair and his team during the "deal in the desert". Here is what I wrote in a blog post dated 14 September 2009:

"The memorandum of understanding regarding prisoner transfer that Tony Blair entered into in the course of the "deal in the desert" in May 2007, and which paved the way for the formal prisoner transfer agreement, was intended by both sides to lead to the rapid return of Mr Megrahi to his homeland. This was the clear understanding of Libyan officials involved in the negotiations and to whom I have spoken.

"It was only after the memorandum of understanding was concluded that [it belatedly sunk in] that the decision on repatriation of this particular prisoner was a matter not for Westminster and Whitehall but for the devolved Scottish Government in Edinburgh, and that government had just come into the hands of the Scottish National Party and so could no longer be expected supinely to follow the UK Labour Government's wishes. That was when the understanding between the UK Government and the Libyan Government started to unravel, to the considerable annoyance and distress of the Libyans, who had been led to believe that repatriation under the PTA was only months away."

Some -- entirely predictable -- US press comments on the recent appearance of Megrahi at a rally in Tripoli can be read here and here and here.

A letter in today's edition of The Scotsman supporting the Justice Secretary's compassionate release decision can be read here.

My great trek from South Africa back to Edinburgh begins later today. It is unlikely that there will be further blog posts until Wednesday, 3 August at the earliest.]


  1. Safe journey back to Edinburgh, Robert!

    Are you travelling by South African Airways Flight 234, arriving Heathrow at 07:20am on Wednesday 3 August 2011?

    It would be a remarkable coincidence because that was the very SAA flight from Johannesburg taken by South African foreign minister Pik Botha, defence minister General Magnus Malan and director of military intelligence General C J Van Tonder before they transferred to Pan Am Flight 101 departing Heathrow at 11:00am on Wednesday 21 December 1988.

    For further details, please see Why the Lockerbie Flight Booking Subterfuge, Mr Botha?

  2. I don't believe that there was any 'funny business' regarding the release of Megrahi, but it must be admitted that it looks very bad from a few thousand miles away. The concept that the Scottish devolved government made the decision to release and not the UK government, and that the two governments were not friends is alien to the US commentators.

    However, were it the other way around and a US state released a prisoner that had committed a serious crime against Britons, then UK commentators would have as much difficulty with the difference between state and federal governments.

  3. Safe journey Robert.

  4. Very important to get readers to learn about the SCCRC findings in the commentary sections below every article.

  5. Sandra, I think that's an excellent idea. I've been reading lately, from journalists I have respected for 20 years or more, phrases like "conspiracy theories" in relation to Megrahi. The point to make is that the SCCRC doesn't do conspiracy theories: it deals in evidence and it was evidence that led it to find six grounds to suggest there may have been a miscarriage of justice at the original trial.