Sunday 17 October 2021

Former Gaddafi aide 'never doubted that Megrahi was innocent’

[What follows is taken from a report by Greg Russell in today's edition of The National:] 

A Jordanian business-woman who was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s chief troubleshooter and fixer for more than 20 years has said she never doubted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was innocent. 

Daad Sharab visited the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing several times during his time in prison. 

Sharab has told how the Libyan leader appeared not to recognise al-Megrahi when she showed him a picture of the two of them taken when she visited him in Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison. 

However, she said that when she told Gaddafi of his countryman’s dismay about the passing years and apparent inaction by the Libyan government, he told her: “Meet him again. Tell him that I received his message and I will find a solution. Tell him that I promise he will be home soon.” 

From that moment, Sharab said he did everything possible to keep the spotlight on the case, funding lawyers for his appeal and paying for investigators to gather new evidence. 

Her narrative comes in an autobiography, The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi, due to be published next week – 10 years after Gaddafi was killed in his home city of Sirte during the Arab Spring uprisings – and to which The Sunday National has had access. 

Professor Robert Black QC, the architect of the Camp Zeist trial in the Netherlands, where al-Megrahi was convicted and his co-accused Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah cleared, told this newspaper it strengthened his belief that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. 

He said: “What Daad Sharab says completely matches the views that I formed through my many meetings with Libyan government officials, including Gaddafi himself, my meetings over many years with the Libyan and Scottish lawyers representing al-Megrahi, and in the course of my one meeting (in HMP Greenock) with al-Megrahi himself. 

“It reinforces my view that al-Megrahi was not only wrongly convicted but had no involvement at all in the Lockerbie bombing. 

“It remains a disgrace that the Scottish criminal justice system has failed to rectify this clear injustice.” 

Sharab said the Lockerbie bombing was the single issue that most occupied Gaddafi’s mind and, in 2003, she was sent to Scotland to meet Megrahi. 

She said he had been supported by a small Libyan government office in Glasgow, and when she arrived one of the staff took her to Barlinnie, where a prison guard ushered her into a small room, where “a bespectacled man, in his early 50s with grey flecks in his brown hair and wearing a baggy tracksuit” was sitting in one of the room’s two chairs. 

“Before him there’s a large file of documents and as I enter he stands to shake my hand,” she said. “His grip is gentle and he appears a little nervous. When he speaks it’s almost in a whisper, although we are not being overheard.” 

She said Libya had always regarded him as a sacrificial lamb, with the West needing someone to blame to be able to claim justice had been done and Gaddafi seeking a way out of the mess of sanctions. This benefited everyone except for al-Megrahi and his family. 

“In the West there was growing unease about the safety of his conviction, and the expectation in Libya was that he would soon be coming home,” said Sharab. 

“Britain wanted rid of him but, unusually, was in disagreement with the US which was taking a much harder line.” 

Al-Megrahi said he had not been coerced by Gaddafi to hand himself in for trial, said Sharab, but she said the pressure must have been unbearable because solving the Lockerbie problem was key to Libya’s future relations with the US and Britain, as well as securing the removal of sanctions against the country. 

The compromise entailed handing over the two accused for trial at a neutral venue, agreeing that Libya paid $2.7 billion (£1.9bn) in compensation and a “carefully worded statement” in which she said: “Libya ‘accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials’ but did not admit guilt for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. 

“It was often wrongly interpreted as a full admission, but anyone reading the words closely could see that was not the case. It was a fudge and, in my view, represented diplomacy at its most cynical. 

“Libya bought peace with the West, which framed an innocent man.” 

Sharab said that when the January 2001 verdict was delivered by three Scottish judges, she was in Tripoli, where Gaddafi told her: “It’s what I expected. They could not lose face by releasing both men.” 

Al-Megrahi felt let down by his country, she said, and urged her to use her connections with the royal family of Jordan. He gave her a letter to King Abdullah, protesting his innocence and pleading to be transferred to a prison in any Arab territory until he was proved innocent. 

In 2005, Megrahi was transferred to Greenock prison where he served the rest of his sentence while battling depression and then prostate cancer, before being released on compassionate grounds by then Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who told The Sunday National

“It confirms the international nature of the tragedy and the role that oil played in UK/USA attitudes. 

“I agree that Megrahi wasn’t the bomber but he had a role in the action perpetrated by Libya.” 

The pressure group Justice for Megrahi (JFM) said there was nothing Sharab had written that contradicted their position over the years, and her first-hand account of the stance of Gaddafi and Abdullah Senussi, Libya’s intelligence chief, lent weight to their position. 

JFM said: “On many levels The Colonel and I provides us with a fascinating and plausible insider’s insight into the culture and philosophy of the Gaddafi regime and reveals how the dictator was wooed by the oil hungry British and American leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush. 

“Sadly, after 33 years, Scotland’s Court of Appeal appears more interested in obscure points of law than in removing this indelible stain on the Scottish justice system.” 

For Sharab, and others, one burning question remains – if al-Megrahi was innocent, who brought down Pan Am flight 103? 

“At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations,” she said. 

“They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources … I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. 

“It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War … Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. 

“He said: ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’.” 

[A more general article by Greg Russell on the book also appears in today's edition of The National under the headline Colonel Muammar Gaddafi memoir author: ‘Judge him for yourself’.]

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