Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Maltese shopkeeper

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer that was published on this date in 2008 on the OhmyNews International website. It reads as follows:]

Edward Gauci owns a small store Mary's House, at 63 Tower Road, Sliema in Malta. His sons, Paul and Tony, run the business. On Sept 22 1988, Paul ordered a few Babygros. The investigator of the bombing of Pan Am 103 discovered that the IED had been surrounded by clothes bought from the Gauci store. According to the US State Department, the clothes were bought on, or about, Dec 7, 1988.

In September 2003, Megrahi, the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103, applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission [SCCRC] for a legal review of his conviction. His request was based on the legal test contained in section 106(3)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.

The provision states that an appeal may be made against "any alleged miscarriage of justice, which may include such a miscarriage based on ... the jury's having returned a verdict which no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned."

In June 2007, the SCCRC decided to grant Megrahi a second appeal and to refer his case to the High Court. An impressive 800-page-long document, stating the reasons for the decision, has been sent to the High Court, the applicant, his solicitor, and Crown Office. Although the document is not available to the public, the Commission has decided "to provide a fuller news release than normal."

Based on new evidence not heard at the trial, as well as additional and other evidence not made available to the defence, the Commission formed the view "that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary's House, took place on Dec 7, 1988."

The conviction of Megrahi relies heavily, in fact almost entirely, on the fact that the bomb was wrapped in clothes that he personally bought in Malta. The prosecutor established that Megrahi was indeed in Malta on Dec 7, 1988 and Tony Gauci, the shopkeeper of the clothes store Mary's House, testified that he had sold the clothes to a man who resembles Megrahi.

New evidence, concerning the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in the area of Sliema in which Mary's House is situated, combined with Gauci's testimony and police statements, led the Commission to conclude that the items must have been bought prior to Dec 6, that is at a time where there is no evidence that Megrahi was on the island.

Additional evidence completely undermines the identification of Megrahi by Gauci. Just days before he picked him in an identification parade, Gauci had seen Megrahi's picture in a magazine.

In fact, the judgment (§69) recognizes that Gauci never positively identified Megrahi. On Feb 15, 1991, Gauci was shown 12 photos, among them a picture of Megrahi 1986 passport.

"Number 8 [The photo of Megrahi] is similar to the man who bought the clothing. The hair is perhaps a bit long. The eyebrows are the same. The nose is the same. And his chin and shape of face are the same. The man in the photograph number 8 is in my opinion in his 30 years."

"He would perhaps have to look about 10 years, or more, older and he would look like the man who bought the clothes. It's been a long time now, and I can only say that this photograph 8 resembles the man who bought the clothing, but it is younger," Gauci said.

The US Department Fact Sheet accompanying the indictment does not say that Gauci had identified Megrahi as the buyer of the clothes. The text merely states that "in February 1991, Megrahi was described as the Libyan who had purchased the clothes."

The Commission did not comment on what may constitute other evidence. "Other evidence, not made available to the defence, which the Commission believes may further undermine Mr. Gauci's identification of the applicant as the purchaser," the press release says.

There is however much reasons to suspect that Tony Gauci is not a reliable witness. Lord Fraser is the former lord advocate who issued the arrest warrant against Megrahi.

On Oct 23, 2005, Lord Fraser told the Times Online that he was not entirely happy with the evidence brought against Megrahi.

"Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say (that he) was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy, I don't think he was deliberately lying but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer," Fraser said.

"You do have to worry, he's a slightly simple chap, are you putting words in his mouth even if you don't intend to?"

According to The Observer, Gauci was interviewed 17 times by the police and his statements are grossly inconsistent.

"A key witness who could be proven to be so unreliable is more than sufficient to collapse any trial. Plus there was evidence of leading questions put to Gauci, a practice then known to distort evidence," a legal source argues.

According to the verdict, Megrahi bought from the Gaucis several clothes including the "cloth" in which the fragment of the infamous MST-13 timer was "discovered" by Dr Hayes. At first sight, the "cloth" appears to be part of a Slalom shirt, indeed sold in Mary's House.

However, upon closer examination, the "cloth" raises a series of issues. Firstly, the colour of the label is incorrect. A blue Slalom shirt label should have blue writing, not brown.

Secondly, the breast pocket size corresponds to a child shirt, not a 16½ sized allegedly bought by Megrahi, for the pocket would have been 2 cm wider.

Thirdly, German records show the shirt with most of the breast pocket intact while the evidence shown at Zeist has a deep triangular tear extending inside the pocket.

Fourthly, last but certainly not least, the storekeeper initially told the investigators he never sold such shirts to whoever visited him a few weeks before the Lockerbie tragedy.

On Jan 30, 1990, Gauci stated: "That time when the man came, I am sure I did not sell him a shirt." Then, on Sept 10, 1990, he told the investigators that: "I now remember that the man who bought the clothing also bought a 'Slalom' shirt." And to make things worse, two of his testimonies have disappeared.

According to the verdict, Megrahi bought the clothes on Dec 7, 1989. Gauci remembered that his brother had gone home earlier to watch an evening football game (Rome vs Dresden), that the man came just before closing time (7 pm), that it was raining (the man bought an umbrella) and that the Christmas lights were on.

The game allows for only two dates: Nov 23 or Dec 7. The issue is critical for there is no indication that Megrahi was in Malta on Nov 23 but is known to have been on the island on December 7th.

Malta airport chief meteorologist testified that it was raining on Nov 23 but not on Dec 7. Yet the judges determined the date as Dec 7. This rather absurd conclusion from the judges raises two other issues.

The game Rome-Dresden on Dec 7 was played at 1 pm, not in the evening. What is more, Gauci had previously testified that the Christmas lights were not up, meaning that the date had to be Nov 23.

On Sept 19, 1989, Gauci stated that "the [Christmas] decorations were not up when the man bought the clothing." Then, at the Lockerbie trial, Gauci told the Judges that the decoration lights were on. "Yes, they were ... up."

In early October, OMNI reported that huge amounts of money were offered by US officials to at least three key witnesses (see "Lockerbie Investigator Disputes Story"). The defense was never told that the CIA had offered millions of dollars to their star witnesses. Both the FBI and CIA denied ever having offered money to any of the witnesses.

"I cannot speak for the CIA but I believe they had no access to witnesses. But [speaking for the FBI] I can say that no one was ever offered any money for testimony. The FBI does not operate that way," Marquise, the former FBI leading investigator, told me.

"This issue came up at trial and I spoke with the defense lawyers about it in Edinburgh in 1999 -- before trial. No one was promised or even told that they could get money for saying anything. Every FBI agent was under specific orders not to mention money to any potential witness."

In response to a query, a CIA spokesperson ridiculed a witness's accusations that it offered or paid him anything. "It may disappoint the conspiracy buffs, but the CIA doesn't belong in your story," a CIA spokesperson said, insisting on anonymity. The witness is none other than Edwin Bollier whose company is accused of having sold the timer that detonated the bomb on Pan Am 103.

An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has confirmed that the bureau met with Bollier in Washington in 1991. Marquise told me that he attended the meeting. But both marquise and the official denied Bollier was offered anything to implicate Libya.

In a formal statement, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko emphatically rejected any suggestions of a payoff. "Any accusations that any witness was paid to lie are complete fabrications and these ridiculous statements should be immediately discounted as the untruths they are," Kolko said. "That is not the way the FBI operates."

However, a source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Jeff Stein, the national security editor of the Congressional Quarterly Web site, CQ Politics, that Tony Gauci and his brother Paul were paid somewhere between $3 to $4 million each for providing information leading to the conviction of Megrahi.

The US State Department has acknowledged that rewards were paid. "A reward was paid out in the Lockerbie Pan Am 103 case," a spokesperson there said on condition of anonymity, "but due to operational and security concerns we are not disclosing details regarding specific amounts, sources or types of assistance the sources provided."

In the weeks preceding the visit of [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice to Tripoli, the name of Megrahi has been mysteriously removed from the Rewards for Justice US Web site.

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