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Britain made grounds to free Lockerbie bomber for oil: Report

Britain made grounds for Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, to return home after "a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal" between Libya and British Petroleum had hit a roadblock, a media report said.

world Updated: Aug 30, 2009 13:12 IST

Britain made grounds for Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, to return home after "a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal" between Libya and British Petroleum had hit a roadblock, a media report said.

Quoting leaked letters by British Justice Secretary Jack Straw to his Scottish counterpart, Kenny MacAskill, 'The Sunday Times' reported the Gordon Brown government decided to make al-Megrahi eligible for return to Libya two years ago "in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom".

In one of the letters, dated July 26, 2007, Straw said that he favoured an option to leave out Megrahi in a prisoner-transfer agreement with Libya, for British national interests, by stipulating that any prisoner convicted before a specified date would not be considered for transfer.

But, on December 19, 2007, Straw switched his position as Libya used its oil and gas deal, potentially worth up to 15 billion pounds, with BP as a "bargaining chip" to insist that the Lockerbie bomber was included, the report said.

In another letter, leaked by a Whitehall source, Straw wrote: "I had previously accepted the importance of al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I've not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.

"The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the (prisoner transfer agreement) should be in the standard form and not mention any individual."

Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. The prisoner transfer agreement was finalised in May this year, leading to Libya formally applying for Megrahi to be transferred to its custody.

However, a Ministry of Justice Spokesman has claimed the deal was ultimately "academic" as Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds.