The following article appears on the front of today’s Scottish Sunday Express under the ludicrously overblown headline ‘Lockerbie: the truth at last‘. It reports on the latest claims of the leaders of Libya’s National Transitional Council and interim head of state Mustafa Abdul Jalil. As so often with the Sunday Express, the article recycles claims that are already in the public domain (the interview and was first reported last month) and when analysed in detail, is really thin stuff. My comments are in normal typeface.
THE head of the Libyan government has revealed his country’s true role in the Lockerbie bomber’s release in a sensational television interview. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who has been running the war-torn North African state since the downfall of Colonel Gaddafi last year, broke his silence to expose the contents of secret government files in Tripoli.
He revealed that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi – the only man convicted of Britain’s worst ever terror atrocity – and his family were paid up to £15million in monthly installments to “buy his silence”.
Jalil also disclosed that Megrahi was ordered to drop his appeal by Gaddafi, who was terrified he would “release critical and confidential information” and have his conviction overturned.
In addition, Jalil said the new regime would continue to work with Scottish and American investigators to “reopen past files that can deliver the truth”.
And, in a further astonishing claim, he suggested that Gaddafi deliberately blew up a Libyan passenger jet in 1992 in a ruthless tit-for-tat bid to frame the West.
Speaking to Dubai-based TV station Al Arabiya, Jalil – the head of the ruling National Transitional Council – said Megrahi was paid 150,000 Euros per month “to keep him quiet”.
If the payments ran from when he was handed over to Scottish police, in April 1999, to his release in August 2009, they would total 18.6million Euros – or £14.6million at today’s exchange rates.
The fact that Abdelbaset’s family were paid by the government is no secret and hardly surprising. He was the main breadwinner of a family of five who, by the time he gave himself up for trial in 1999, had endured seven and a half years very difficult years. In agreeing to stand trial, Abdelbaset and Lamin Fhimah helped free the country from years of crippling sanctions. In that context, the figures cited are paltry, especially when compared to the billions spent by the Libyan government to settle the case. There is absolutely no evidence that the payments were to keep Abdelbaset quiet. If that was Gadafy’s aim, then surely Fhimah would also have been paid (in a newspaper interview last year he claimed that he had had to sell his farm because the government had left him financially high and dry). Alternatively, Gadafy could have had them both killed well before the trial was mooted.
In the interview, Jalil – who was also Gaddafi’s Justice Minister from 2007 to 2011 – said he had been “advised to keep away from cases linked to external affairs, and this includes the Lockerbie case”.
This is hardly surprising. As justice minister, he had responsibility for the domestic justice system, rather than international relations. Furthermore, Abdelbaset’s return to Libya in August 2009 effectively closed the case. It’s worth noting that Jalil’s successor as justice minister, Mohamed al-Alagi, who is now head of Libya’s human rights commission, has publicly stated that Abdelbaset is innocent.
He added: “However, I witnessed two things. First, the insistence of both Saif [al-Islam Gaddafi, the dictator’s son] and his father that I get back [Megrahi] by whatever means necessary…
“Meanwhile, the sentence was not completed and the appeal was getting closer.
“But the insistence of the country for Abdelbaset to waive his appeal and his fast return indicates the country was in a crisis, considering that the late Abdelbaset wanted to release critical and confidential information about Lockerbie.”
It’s not clear here whether the country referred to is Libya or Scotland. The only critical and confidential information that Abdelbaset sought the release of was held by the Crown Office and the UK authorities.
Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal, just days before his release from prison, has always been shrouded in mystery – especially because he continued to protest his innocence right up until his death in May.
Jalil added: “The Libyans wanted him back as soon as possible, in return for the waiver of the appeal. If the appeal had persisted maybe some critical evidence that proved his innocence would have surfaced.
“And perhaps evidence that convicted him would have resurfaced as well. So, they preferred that he returns to Libya at this point to ensure that he does not reveal confidential information.”
Again, it’s unclear exactly what Jalil means (perhaps owing to poor translation). The Libyan government had no power to make abandonment of the appeal a condition of his release and had no interest in doing so. The appeal would not have produced any evidence of Libyan government involvement, because it was focused on the narrow issue of the safety of Abdelbaset’s conviction. There was no prospect of Abdelbaset revealing confidential information concerning Libyan government involvement in the bombing, firstly, because he almost certainly had none and, secondly, because, if he had, he would have both undermined his own appeal and jeopardised the safety of his family in Libya.
However, he insisted he had been misquoted by a Swedish newspaper last year which claimed he had evidence that Gaddafi personally ordered the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which claimed 270 lives.
He said: “All I said then is what I say right now, which is that the regime was involved in this case, evident by insisting he returns and that they spent a lot of money on him while he was in jail.”
Really? Sounds like backpedalling to me.
Jalil also hinted at the existence of government files which could finally establish once and for all whether the bombing was the work of Megrahi and other Libyan agents, under orders from Gaddafi – or was in fact an Iranian-backed plot, as many campaigners believe.
He said: “We sympathize with the families of the innocent victims and we are willing to reopen past files that can deliver the truth.”
Megrahi, who developed terminal prostate cancer during eight years behind bars in Scotland, is known to have had a number of Swiss bank accounts, including one which allegedly held £1.8million at the time of his trial in 2000.
The £1.8 million claim originates from a Sunday Times article of 20 December 2009. In fact there is only evidence of one Swiss bank account, which was dormant from 1993 onwards, and had a balance of only $23,000. Had Abdelbaset given evidence at trial, he could have accounted for all the payments in and out of the account.
But the full extent of the fortune paid to ensure his silence will appal many of those who lost loved ones in December 1988.
However, campaigners calling for a public inquiry into Lockerbie said the new evidence supports claims that Megrahi was simply a well-paid “fall guy”.
Robert Black, Professor of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, said: “He was getting a lot of money because he had taken the fall for something he didn’t do.
“By surrendering himself for trial in Scotland he brought Libya under Gaddafi back into world commerce. That was something the Libyans thought worth paying for.”
This wrongly implies that Abdelbaset’s supporters believe that he took the rap for Gadafy. I’m not aware of any of his prominent supports, including Prof Black, who believe that to be the case.
Gaddafi ordered 1992 bombing
COLONEL Gaddafi may have deliberately blown up a passenger jet, killing 157, in a bizarre bid to frame the American and British governments and sue for compensation.
Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 1103 was involved in a mid-air collision with a Libyan MiG 23 fighter jet as it was approaching Tripoli Airport on December 22, 1992.
The fighter pilot and navigator safely ejected, but all of the Boeing 727’s passengers or crew were killed – including oil worker Victor Prazak, from London.
At the time, Gaddafi was under growing pressure to hand over the Lockerbie suspects and facing severe UN sanctions.
In his TV interview, current Libyan leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said: “This trip was chosen on a day that coincides with the Lockerbie bombings and the flight number was almost identical.
“It was confirmed that the plane, going from Benghazi to Tripoli, was stuffed with explosives. It was given a new route deep into the sea, that no other plane has taken before.
“It was in the landing stages at Tripoli when, some say, it was intersected by another plane that bombed it.
“Nothing was left intact from the bombing.”
I have not studied the case of LAA flight 1103, but find Jalil’s suggestion bizarre.