[This is the headline over an article by Lucy Adams published in The Sunday Times on this date in 2002:]
Officials in London and Tripoli have agreed the wording of an admission of responsibility for the 1988 atrocity in which 270 people died.
However the draft statement has been rejected by the American government because it falls short of an unconditional admission of guilt. It also fails to recognise the legitimacy of the Scottish court in the Netherlands which convicted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who is now serving at least 20 years in Barlinnie prison.
Washington’s rejection of the draft apology will delay the removal of Libya from the US government’s blacklist of countries that sponsor terrorism, and the payment of compensation to the victims’ families by the Libyan government.
Lawyers for Colonel Muammar Muhammad al-Gadaffi’s government have said that up to £1.3m could be withheld from each family until it is removed from the list and trade sanctions, in force for the past 16 years, are lifted.
The apology was agreed in London by British officials at meetings with the Libyan intelligence official Musa Kusah and Muhammad al-Zuway, the Libyan ambassador to Britain.
It was drafted with the help of Professor Robert Black, the Scottish legal expert who was instrumental in establishing the Scottish trial on Dutch soil at Camp Zeist. It states: “Megrahi was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103 and his conviction was upheld on appeal.
“He is a Libyan citizen and was an employee of a state enterprise. The Libyan government accepts state responsibility for the consequences of that conviction because he was a Libyan citizen and state employee.”
One senior Libyan source said: “As far as an admission of responsibility is concerned, the furthest we are prepared to go is acceptance that under international law there is state responsibility for the actings of citizens and employees of state enterprises, and acknowledgment that a Libyan citizen and employee of a state enterprise has been convicted in a judicial process to which we signed up but the outcome of which we will not accept as establishing the truth.”
Black, a professor of law at Edinburgh University, said: “The form of the words is not an outright apology. They want to make it an admission of responsibility not guilt.”
Last August Mike O’Brien, foreign office minister of state for Middle East affairs, became the first British minister to visit Libya in almost 20 years.
At the meeting with O’Brien in Tripoli Abdurrahman Shalgam, Libya’s foreign minister, was reported to have said: “Regarding compensation, as a principle, yes, we are going to do something on that topic. Regarding responsibility, we are discussing this issue.”
Kreindler and Kreindler, the legal firm representing the families of American victims, said Gadaffi had agreed to pay up to £1.85 billion in compensation. However, the payments depend on the lifting of trade sanctions.