Friday, 10 April 2015

UK Government "game plan" on Megrahi release

[What follows is excerpted from a report that appeared on The Telegraph website on this date in 2011:]

The British ambassador to the US told America it should not intervene to stop the release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison, according to leaked diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and passed to the Daily Telegraph.

Nigel Sheinwald told James Steinberg, the US Deputy Secretary of State, that he was "concerned" that the demands of victims' families were unduly influencing US policy.

His comments came during critical negotiations over whether Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the murder of 270 passengers on Pan Am Flight 103, should be switched to a Libyan jail to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Sir Nigel was Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser between 2003 and 2007 and played a key role, alongside the Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, in bringing Colonel Muammar Gaddafi back into the international fold. He was at Mr Blair's side for the first meeting with Colonel Gaddafi in 2007 that resulted in a substantial BP oil contract. [RB: Sheinwald was at Blair's side throughout the negotiations that resulted in the "deal in the desert".]

The cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and passed to the Daily Telegraph, is dated February 2009. It states: "Sheinwald asked that the US continue to consult with the UK in the possible transfer of ailing Pan Am bomber Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi from the UK to Libya. Specifically, he said HMG supported the discussions this week between UK and US officials to define a common strategy.

"Sheinwald cited concern that the Pan Am victims' families were asking for direct US intervention to stop the transfer. He asked that the United States delay "for a few days" any intervention with the Scottish authorities, who will ultimately decide on the transfer." [RB: At this stage, only repatriation under the UK-Libya prisoner transfer agreement was in issue. No application for compassionate release was made by Megrahi until several months later.]

He was firmly rebuffed by Deputy Secretary Steinberg. The cable states: "The Deputy said the UK government needed to understand the sensitivities in this case, and noted he was acutely aware of the concerns of Lockerbie victim's groups from his previous time in government."

Mr Megrahi was controversially released on compassionate grounds seven months later after being diagnosed with cancer.

Last night the victim's families were furious that British diplomats actively lobbied to stop the US intervening in Megrahi's release.

Kathleen Flynn, whose son John Patrick died in the bombing, said: "It is disgraceful that the British were complicit in his release. This man was a killer who took 270 innocent lives but was allowed go free and live the life of riley in Tripoli."

Sir Nigel Sheinwald also reportedly gave Gaddafi's son, Saif, help with his PhD thesis. The doctorate awarded him by the London School of Economics was already thought suspect because he followed it with a £1.5 million donation. Mr Sheinwald denied the allegation, saying he met Saif Gaddafi while he was writing his thesis but had not helped him. (...)

Senior Labour Cabinet ministers always denied being involved in any backstairs deals over the release in August 2009, yet a secret Foreign Office memo referred to a "game plan" to facilitate Megrahi's move to Libya.

Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, said in an analysis of the papers: "Once Megrahi had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2008, (government) policy was based upon an assessment that UK interests would be damaged if Megrahi were to die in a UK jail."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We do not comment on leaked documents."

[The following is taken from an item posted on this blog on 15 July 2010:]

The government believes that the decision by Scotland to free the Lockerbie bomber was a mistake, London's envoy to the United States said Thursday.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US Pan Am jumbo jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which left 270 people dead.

"The new British government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake," ambassador Nigel Sheinwald said, stressing that under the country's laws power over justice issues have been devolved to Scotland.

[I commented as follows:]

The ambassador to Washington DC, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, was Foreign Policy and Defence Adviser to the prime minister, Tony Blair, from 2003 to 2007. It is a matter for mild cynical amusement that Sheinwald was present at, and intimately involved in, the negotiation of the deal in the desert which was intended to pave the way for Abdelbaset Megrahi's early repatriation under a prisoner transfer agreement. The UK negotiators did not realise that the power to allow transfer would rest, not with the UK but with the Scottish, Government. Or if the negotiators did realise this, they signally failed to inform their Libyan counterparts, to the disgust of the latter when they discovered [RB: from me] what the true position was.

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