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Monday, 29 July 2013

Secret letter reveals Lockerbie bomber release linked to arms deal... -

Secret letter reveals Lockerbie bomber release linked to arms deal... - 

The release of the Lockerbie bomber was linked by the Government to a £400 million arms-export deal to Libya, according to secret correspondence obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.

An email sent by the then British ambassador in Tripoli details how a prisoner transfer agreement would be signed once Libya “fulfils its promise” to buy an air defence system.
The disclosure is embarrassing for members of the then Labour government, which always insisted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release was not linked to commercial deals.
The email, which contained a briefing on the UK’s relations with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, was sent on June 8 2008 by Sir Vincent Fean, the then UK ambassador, to Tony Blair’s private office, ahead of a visit soon after he stepped down as prime minister.
Mr Blair flew to Tripoli to meet Gaddafi on June 10, in a private jet provided by the dictator, one of at least six visits Mr Blair made to Libya after quitting Downing Street.
The briefing, which runs to 1,300 words, contains revealing details about how keen Britain was to do deals with Gaddafi. It also suggests that:
• the UK made it a key objective for Libya to invest its £80  billion sovereign wealth fund through the City of London
• the UK was privately critical of then President George Bush for “shooting the US in the foot” by continuing to put a block on Libyan assets in America, in the process scuppering business deals
• the Department for International Development was eager to use another Libyan fund worth £130 million to pay for schemes in Sierra Leone and other poverty-stricken countries.
The release of Megrahi in August 2009 caused a huge furore, with the Government insisting he had been released on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from terminal cancer, and that the decision was taken solely by the Scottish government.
Megrahi had been convicted in 2001 of the murder of 270 people when PanAm flight 103 from London to New York blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. It remains Britain’s single worst terrorist atrocity.
Libya had been putting pressure on the UK to release Megrahi and in May 2007, just before he left Downing Street, Mr Blair travelled to Sirte to meet Gaddafi and Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Libya’s then prime minister.
At that meeting, according to Sir Vincent’s email, Mr Blair and Mr Baghdadi agreed that Libya would buy the missile defence system from MBDA, a weapons manufacturer part-owned by BAE Systems. The pair also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA), which the Libyans believed would pave the way for Megrahi’s release.
The British government initially intended the agreement to explicitly exclude Megrahi. However, ministers relented under pressure from Libya.
In December 2007, Jack Straw, then justice secretary, told his Scottish counterpart that he had been unable to secure an exclusion, but said any application to transfer Megrahi under the agreement would still have to be signed off by Scottish ministers.
With Mr Blair returning in June 2008 — as a guest of Gaddafi on his private jet — the government appears to have used the chance to press its case for the arms deal to be sealed. At the time, Britain was on the brink of an economic and banking crisis, and Libya, through the Libyan Investment Authority, had billions of pounds in reserves.
Sir Vincent gave Mr Blair’s office a briefing on the state of relations with Libya. The email suggests that Mr Blair was being used as a conduit.


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