LONDON, (AFP) – Foreign Secretary William Hague told his US counterpart that there was no evidence linking the release of the Lockerbie bomber last year to a BP oil deal, amid mounting US concern.
In a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday, Hague confirmed that Britain’s new coalition government believed it had been a “mistake” to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi last August.
But he insisted that the devolved Scottish authorities who took the decision had acted properly — and rejected claims in the United States that oil giant BP had urged Megrahi’s release to protect a lucrative oil deal with Libya.
“There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish Executive’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish Executive decided to release Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP,” Hague wrote to Clinton, in a letter released by the Foreign Office.
Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in which 270 people were killed, was freed because he was thought to have just months to live. He is still alive in Libya.
His release sparked outrage in the United States, where most of the Lockerbie victims were from, and this has been renewed by the claims about BP, which is already under fire over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
A top US Senate committee said this week it would hold a hearing into events leading up to Megrahi’s release, and Hague copied his letter to Clinton to committee chairman Senator John Kerry.
He also said he had asked British ambassador to Washington Nigel Sheinwald to “stay in close touch” with the panel to help with its investigations.
Sheinwald had revealed earlier this week that Prime Minister David Cameron’s new government, which took power in May, had opposed Megrahi’s release.
Hague repeated this in his letter, saying: “Firstly, I must emphasise my own concern and regret at the continuing anguish that the release has caused the families of Megrahi’s victims in the United States, as well as here in the UK.
“I would like to make clear that this administration believes that the release of Megrahi was a mistake.”
The letter was sent the day after Clinton raised the Lockerbie issue with Hague during a phone call to prepare for Cameron’s visit to the White House next week.