Lockerbie is a nightmare Dennis Vella wants to forget but, more than two decades after Pan Am flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town, the bad dream keeps resurfacing.
Mr Vella, 60, was a manager of the Valletta-based sales office of Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta at the time of the Lockerbie bombing. His desk was located opposite that of Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the second Libyan man accused of the bombing but who was acquitted by an international court. [RB: the court was a Scottish, not an international, one even though it sat in the Netherlands.]
Mr Vella speaks highly of Mr Fhimah. “He was a gentleman and a good office friend.”
Despite being described as a computer expert by investigators, he adds, Mr Fhimah never seemed like a tech-savvy individual. “He used to ask me to input the passenger lists on the computer.”
But it is the latest instalment of the Lockerbie saga involving the alleged escapades in Malta of Mr Fhimah and Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted of the bombing, that prompts Mr Vella to speak out.
A news report featured by the BBC last week purported to reveal how the two Libyan men had Maltese girlfriends whom they met regularly at the now defunct Central Hotel in Mosta.
It transpired that the news was not new and details of the clandestine relationship between the two Libyan men and their Maltese girlfriends had already featured in official documents published in the book Lockerbie: Qabel Il-Verdett by journalist Joe Mifsud 12 years ago.
The girls were reported to have worked with Libyan Arab Airlines and it is this that Mr Vella feels should be corrected not to shed a bad light on the female employees who worked for him.
“There were only a handful of women who worked at the Libyan Arab Airlines head office and sales office in Malta and they were all decent and definitely never had any relationship with Fhimah or Megrahi,” he insisted.
The two women might have been employed as air hostesses and could have been based in Libya or else might have worked with other Libyan companies, he added. “If this is the case I would not know them but they definitely did not work for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta.”
Mr Vella said Lockerbie cost him numerous sleepless nights as British and Maltese investigators questioned him and other office workers in the aftermath of the bombing.
“It is already horrible to think of all those dead people but in the years that followed we kept being questioned by investigators about Fhima and Megrahi. Lockerbie would not go away. We were dragged into the affair but we were only trying to earn a living with the airline.”
Mr Vella, who worked for more than 15 years with Libyan Arab Airlines, said Mr al-Megrahi was never employed by the airline, although he did not know whether the Libyan Embassy had listed him as a company employee. (…) [RB: Mr Megrahi was employed by Libyan Arab Airlines and eventually became their head of security. However, it appears that he was never stationed in Malta.]
“I only saw him once or twice when he came to buy an airline ticket and Fhimah never mentioned his name to me,” Mr Vella said of Mr al-Megrahi.