[This is the headline over a report by Lucy Adams in today’s edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]
The Foreign Minister of Malta has revealed that he does not believe the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was responsible.
George Vella made the comment about Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who was found guilty over the tragedy which took place 25 years ago.
The claim is the most direct by a serving minister about the controversial conviction, based around the evidence of a Maltese shopkeeper and his brother.
Speaking on Times Talk television programme in Malta, Dr Vella said the government did not intend to point fingers at one country or other, but in view of the evidence that was emerging, he personally felt that the case needed to be heard once more before new judges in the interests of justice, not least that of Megrahi, who died last year.
Malta had good relations with the countries involved in the case, including the US and the UK but it has also just signed a memo-randum of understanding with Libya to agree preferential rates for oil and gas, once the country is back on its feet.
According to The Times of Malta, Dr Vella said his personal belief was that the bomb which downed the Pan Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie was a revenge attack after an Iranian passenger aircraft was shot down by a US warship in 1988.
Earlier in the programme, lawyer Dr Giannella de Marco said there was never any evidence to back the claim that the Lockerbie bomb was loaded on an Air Malta flight from Malta to Frankfurt and then to London for the Pan Am 103 flight because all luggage on the Air Malta aircraft in question had been accounted for and there were no unaccompanied bags.
Dr Vella agreed and said that once there was no evidence that the bomb started its journey in Malta, one could never find Malta-based Megrahi guilty. Nor did it make sense that of two accused, one was convicted and the other Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima was acquitted. With regard to reward money promised to Tony and Paul Gauci for their evidence in the Lockerbie trial, Dr Vella said that at no stage did the Gauci brothers actually request money.
However, Dr de Marco said there was evidence that the statements by the Gaucis changed several times, there was talk of reward money and money was given. Tony Gauci gave several versions of his description of Megrahi. He said one could not depend on a person who was inconsistent and was paid at the end of his evidence.
Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the tragedy, has repeatedly said that the type of bomb used could not have been loaded on an aircraft from Malta or Frankfurt as it would have exploded earlier.
Dr Vella, whose comments were broadcast earlier this week, is favourite to be named President of the Republic when Dr George Abela's term expires in April. His comments on Lockerbie were broadcast earlier this week.
Professor Robert Black, emeritus professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, said: "For a foreign minister to say that the verdict of a court of a friendly foreign country is wrong, is almost an unprecedented event. It is highly significant that the Foreign Minister of Malta has said this."