Wednesday 6 April 2016

First appearance of Megrahi and Fhimah in Scottish court

[On this date in 1999 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah made their first appearance in a Scottish court. What follows is excerpted from a report by Ian Black in The Guardian:]

Two Libyans accused of murder and conspiracy in connection with the Lockerbie bombing yesterday made their first appearance before a Scottish court which has been convened in the Netherlands.

Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi, aged 46, and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, aged 42, allegedly Libyan intelligence agents, were charged in a hearing before Graham Cox, sheriff principal of Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway. They will be committed for trial on April 15.

Before the arraignment at Camp Zeist, a former US air base now under Scottish jurisdiction, officials spent two hours reading out to the men the warrants for their arrest in Arabic and English as well as the names of each of the 270 people who died on Pan Am Flight 103 and on the ground in Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

The two men were remanded in custody at HM Prison Zeist.

The Libyans appeared separately at the five-minute hearing, accompanied by lawyers, UN observers and interpreters. Each spoke once, to say 'yes'' in Arabic to confirm their identities. Both men deny the charges.

The accused left Tripoli on a UN plane on Monday, more than seven years after first being indicted in Scotland and the US.

Yesterday Scottish police were fingerprinting, photographing them and taking DNA samples.

Monday's handover marked the end of a diplomatic and legal struggle to bring the alleged bombers to court. It has led to the suspension of the UN sanctions on Libya imposed in 1992 to force their surrender. The Security Council has said it would consider lifting the sanctions altogether if Libya publicly renounces terrorism and complies with other UN demands.

British firms are now waiting to resume potentially lucrative trading links with Libya, but both the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry warned yesterday that the formality of lifting sanctions could take months to complete.

The British Libyan Business Group, a lobbying organisation, said that it was planning a direct flight to Libya to 'fly the flag and open negotiations for major business development'. Lord Steel, the Liberal peer, and MPs Teddy Taylor and Tam Dalyell are among the public figures being invited to join it.

Italian and French firms, competing for the lion's share of the Libyan market, are already planning similar promotional flights. (...)

In 1992 the value of British exports to Libya was £228 million while £162 million worth of goods were imported. Most British exports were industrial machinery and equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemical materials and products and electrical appliances. The main imports were petroleum products and organic chemicals.

In another clear sign that Libya wants to move quickly back to business as usual, Libyan Arab Airlines said yesterday it was considering resuming international flights after the lifting of the UN flight ban.

But a long legal haul is only just beginning. Under Scottish law, the trial should start in 110 days but lawyers for the accused are expected to ask for an extension to give them more time to prepare their defence, which could delay the trial's start by between six months and a year.

The Zeist trial is to be heard, uniquely, by a three-judge panel but no jury. It is expected to last a year or longer. If convicted, the suspects will serve their sentences in Barlinnie jail, Glasgow, Scotland's highest-security prison, with the unprecedented privilege of being under permanent observation by UN monitors.

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