Saturday, 28 November 2015

Fhimah "no case to answer" submission

[What follows is the text of a report that appeared on The Guardian website on this date in 2000 (and in the printed edition of the newspaper on 29 November):]

The case against one of the Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing teetered on a knife edge last night as judges retired to consider whether they would throw it out.

Counsel for Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah told the Scottish court in the Netherlands there was "not a jot of evidence" against his client on some charges. Even prosecution lawyers agreed they could not directly prove that Fhimah was at the airport where the bomb was alleged to have been planted.

Prosecution lawyers claim the bomb, which blew up Pan Am flight 103, was placed on a plane which left Malta's Luqa airport, and then transferred to the New York-bound jumbo at Frankfurt airport on December 21, 1988.

But the advocate depute, Alastair Campbell, conceded yesterday there was no direct evidence to prove Fhimah was at Luqa airport on that date. He asked the judges to infer Fhimah's involvement in the bombing from circumstantial evidence - a request that was ridiculed by Richard Keen QC, counsel for Fhimah.

"Your lordships are being asked to infer that a man who wasn't there did, by a means we do not know, smuggle a bomb into Luqa airport," Mr Keen said.

In the biggest mass murder trial in British history, Fhimah - along with his co-accused Abdelbaset Al Megrahi - faces charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and a breach of the Aviation Security Act.

Before the defence had even begun its case, the trial judges were yesterday asked by Mr Keen to throw out the charges faced by Fhimah, on the basis of insufficient evidence to sustain any of them.

Last night the judges retired to consider the application. It is likely they will return with their decision this morning. If they uphold the submission, Fhimah will be free to go home to Libya immediately - and one half of the £2m-a-month trial will have collapsed.

The judges' decision, however, will not affect Megrahi; his lawyers have indicated that their defence will blame Palestinian terrorist organisations for the atrocity.

In the late 1980s, Fhimah worked as station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines at Luqa airport, though he had given up the position months before the Lockerbie bombing. The prosecution claimed he used the post as a front for his activities with the Libyan intelligence service, the JSO. But Mr Keen said yesterday there was no evidence to suggest Fhimah had been associated with JSO.

Mr Keen told the court that the only evidence of Fhimah being involved with the JSO came from Abdul Majid Giaka, the Libyan "supergrass" who defected to the US; even he conceded that he had only assumed Fhimah was in the JSO.

Mr Giaka had also told the court that Fhimah had shown him 10kg of TNT in his desk at Luqa airport. But Mr Keen said that was at least three months before the Lockerbie bombing, and Semtex, not TNT, was used in the attack.

Mr Keen said that none of the evidence presented incriminated Fhimah in a conspiracy to destroy a civil aircraft with the consequent murder of its occupants.

In response, Mr Campbell said Fhimah filled three key criteria needed to enable him to be a conspirator in the murder of the 270 who died in the Lockerbie bombing. He said Fhimah had access to luggage tags, he could get a suitcase holding a bomb through Luqa airport security, and he could get an unaccompanied bag on to an aircraft. Mr Campbell said Fhimah had carried out all three actions with full knowledge of their consequence.

[RB: The report on the day’s proceedings by Glasgow University’s Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit can be accessed here.]

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