[On this date in 2006 the Sunday Herald published an article headlined Lockerbie trial was a CIA fix, US intelligence insider claims. It reads as follows:]
The CIA manipulated the Lockerbie trial and lied about the strength of the prosecution case to get a result that was politically convenient for America, according to a former US State Department lawyer.
Michael Scharf, who was the counsel to the US counter-terrorism bureau when the two Libyans were indicted for the bombing, described the case as "so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese" and said it should never have gone to trial.
He claimed the CIA and FBI had assured State Department officials there was an "iron-clad" case against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Fimah, but that in reality the intelligence agencies had no confidence in their star witness and knew well in advance of the trial that he was "a liar".
Scharf branded the case a "whitewash" and added: "It was a trial where everybody agreed ahead of time that they were just going to focus on these two guys, and they were the fall guys." The comments by Scharf are controversial, given his position in US intelligence during the Lockerbie investigation and trial. It also comes at a crucial time as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is to report in the coming months on whether it believes there was a miscarriage of justice in the case.
In January 2001, following a trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, Fimah was acquitted and al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in a Scottish jail for his part in the December 1988 bombing.
Scharf joined the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser for Law Enforcement and Intelligence in April 1989, just four months after Pan Am Flight 103 was downed and at the height of the CIA's Lockerbie bombing investigation. He was also responsible for drawing up the UN Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on Libya in 1992 in order to force Tripoli to hand over al-Megrahi and Fimah for trial.
He added: "The CIA and the FBI kept the State Department in the dark. It worked for them for us to be fully committed to the theory that Libya was responsible. I helped the counterterrorism bureau draft documents that described why we thought Libya was responsible, but these were not based on seeing a lot of evidence, but rather on representations from the CIA and FBI and the Department of Justice about what the case would prove and did prove.
"It was largely based on this inside guy [Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka]. It wasn't until the trial that I learned this guy was a nut-job and that the CIA had absolutely no confidence in him and that they knew he was a liar.
"It was a case that was so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese." Scharf, now an international law expert at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said he was convinced that Libya, Iran and the Palestinian terrorist group the PFLP-GC were involved in the bombing, which killed 270 people. But, he said, the case had a "diplomatic rather than a purely legal goal".
"Now Libya has given up its weapons of mass destruction, it's allowed inspectors in, the sanctions have been lifted, tourists from the US are flocking to see the Roman ruins outside of Tripoli and Gaddafi has become a leader in Africa rather than a pariah. And all of that is the result of this trial, " Scharf said.
"Diplomatically, it has been a huge success story. But legally, it just seemed like a whitewash to me." Robert Black, professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University and the principal architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist, described the Lockerbie case as "a fraud".
"That the trial at Camp Zeist resulted in a conviction is a disgrace for Scottish justice, " he said. "I think this [Scharf 's comments] indicates that a growing number of people on both sides of the Atlantic now believe they were used in this case." Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing, said: "Myself and Michael Scharf are coming from exactly the same position. I went to the trial and became convinced after watching it unfold that the case was full of holes." Tony Kelly, al-Megrahi's solicitor, said he would not comment while the SCCRC was still examining the case.
No-one at the CIA in Washington was available to comment.