Thursday, 2 February 2017

Prisoner transfer and UK Government chicanery

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2008:]

Scotland's first minister has asked for assurances that the Lockerbie bomber will be excluded from any prisoner transfer deal with Libya.

Alex Salmond raised concerns that the Westminster government's position on the issue had changed.

It was reported that the UK Government drafted a transfer agreement that could cover Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

But UK ministers have repeated that no transfer could go ahead without the agreement of the Scottish Government.

Mr Salmond spoke out on the issue after the Financial Times reported that Libya had just ratified a £450m contract with oil giant BP, after Westminster ministers drafted a prisoner transfer agreement that it claimed could cover al-Megrahi.

However BP has stressed that the £450m exploration contract, originally signed in May 2007, was a commercial one.

Mr Salmond described the report as "a very serious allegation", but said it was up to the UK Government to explain.

He pointed out al-Megrahi's case was under appeal and that the judicial process must be allowed to take its course. (...)

Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland: "My role, the role of the government is to defend the integrity of the judicial system in Scotland and that's exactly what we intend to do."

"We've made it quite clear that, in terms of prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, we thought it would be appropriate if anyone connected with the Lockerbie atrocity was excluded specifically from any prisoner transfer agreement.

"Until very recently, that was also the position of the UK Government."

Mr Salmond went on: "Now that seems to have changed and it's up to the UK government to explain why that position has changed and why that exclusion hasn't been gained."

The UK justice department said any decision on the transfer of al-Megrahi to Libya was a matter for the Scottish legal system and stressed that no transfer could go ahead without the agreement of the Scottish Government.

A BP spokesman added: "We are a commercial company and have signed a deal that has now been ratified by the Libyan Government.

"Any matters relating to political issues should be referred to the governments concerned."

A row previously broke out between UK and Scottish ministers after former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi signed a memorandum of understanding on prisoner transfer.

Downing Street said at the time that the agreement did not cover Megrahi, but UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw later said the fate of the bomber was a "matter for discussion" with Holyrood ministers.

[The following day, I commented on this blog as follows:]

The truth of the matter is this. The UK Foreign Office (and officials in the office of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair) entered into negotiations with Libya for a reciprocal prisoner transfer agreement. Both sides were perfectly well aware that the only Libyan prisoner in a British jail about whom the Libyans had the slightest concern was Megrahi. The Libyan negotiators believed, rightly believed, and were known by the UK negotiators to believe that the agreement they were drafting would cover Megrahi. The London Government did not have the courtesy to inform the Scottish Government (which is responsible for prisons and prisoners in Scotland) that these negotiations were taking place. When the Scottish Government found out about them and complained to the UK Government, the latter announced that (a) the proposed agreement was not intended to cover Megrahi and (b) even if it were, the final decision on the transfer of any Libyan prisoner in a Scottish jail would rest with the Scottish Government. The latter proposition was and is correct.The former was not: it was at best disingenuous and at worst (and probably more accurately) an outright lie.

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