Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Questions remain about links with ex-spy chief

[This is the headline over a report (behind the paywall) in today's edition of The Times.  It reads as follows:]

The revelation that Moussa Koussa met top British and US officials at a Cotswolds hotel in 2003 will fuel suspicions that the Government shielded the former Libyan spy chief from prosecution after he defected to Britain in March.

For three decades Mr Koussa was a member of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle. He was expelled from Britain in 1980 for ordering the assassination of regime opponents. He was suspected of involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and other terrorist atrocities. He was Libya’s spy chief for 15 years, and witnesses recently told the BBC’s Panorama that he was present when 1,200 inmates were massacred at Abu Salim prison, Tripoli, in 1996.

Since 2001, however, he was a key player in Libya’s rapprochement with the West, negotiating his country’s abandonment of weapons of mass destruction and providing intelligence on al-Qaeda.

On visits to Britain he met officials at places such as The Travellers Club in Pall Mall and, as The Times reveals today, the Bay Tree Hotel in Burford, where he negotiated with Sir Mark Allen, then head of counter-terrorism at MI6 and now an adviser to BP, and Steve Kappes, a CIA agent who resigned as deputy director last year.

The cosiness of the relationship was laid embarrassingly bare in letters found in Mr Koussa’s office after the fall of Tripoli in August. In one, Sir Mark trumpeted Britain’s cooperation in forcibly repatriating a regime opponent, saying that was “the least we could do for you”.

When Mr Koussa fled Libya on March 30 he was flown in a private plane to Farnborough Airport and taken to a safe house.

David Cameron and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, both denied that he had been granted immunity from prosecution, and he was questioned by Lockerbie investigators. But within days the EU unfroze his assets at Britain’s request and he left for Qatar. He has lived in the Four Seasons Hotel, Qatar, ever since.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office insists there were no grounds for detaining him. But officials also accept that prosecuting Mr Koussa would have deterred other defections, and silenced a priceless source of inside information about Gaddafi’s regime.“I can’t say there was a deal, but it was very convenient for the Government that Moussa Koussa moved to Qatar,” Guma el-Gamaty, the former coordinator of Libya’s National Transitional Council in Britain, said. “If he’d stayed any longer the Lockerbie investigators were coming in to demand he should be investigated.”

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