British Prime Minister Gordon Brown refused to press Libya to pay compensation to the victims of IRA bombings, rejecting the pleas of a top human rights lawyer, previously secret letters released Sunday by Brown’s office show.
“Libya has made it clear to us that they consider this matter closed,” Brown wrote in October 2008 to Jason McCue, who represents victims of bombings by the Irish Republican Army. Libya is accused of supplying explosives to the IRA for terrorist attacks. Pushing Libya on the issue “would entail substantial risks,” Brown wrote. But he denied that he was reluctant to anger Libya for fear Britain would lose out on oil deals with the north African country — an allegation made by the Sunday Times newspaper and by McCue himself. “You assert that the core reason for not entering into direct negotiations is that of trade,” Brown wrote to McCue last year. “I assure you this is not the case.” He cited Libya’s about-face on terrorism as the key factor in both the October 2008 letter to McCue and another one he wrote to the lawyer a month earlier. On Saturday, a top government minister said oil and trade were considered at one point as factors in the release of the Lockerbie bomber. And Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s son, who was involved in negotiating accords between the two nations, told CNN that Libya pressed the British government to include the convicted terrorist in a 2007 prisoner release agreement that was tied to trade deals. Ultimately, convicted bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds because he is dying of cancer, a decision that Scottish, British and Libyan officials have said was not linked to oil or trade. In an interview published Saturday in The Daily Telegraph, British Justice Secretary Jack Straw said trade and the interests of oil giant BP were factors in the prisoner transfer agreement.
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“Yes, (it was) a very big part of that,” Straw told the paper. “I’m unapologetic about that. … Libya was a rogue state. We wanted to bring it back into the fold. And yes, that included trade because trade is an essential part of it and subsequently there was the BP deal.” Straw’s adviser said Saturday that Straw’s quotes were accurate, but he emphasized that al Megrahi was not released under the terms of that deal. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decided last month to release al Megrahi, who was serving a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombing killed 270 people and was the world’s deadliest act of terrorism until the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, according to the FBI. The prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the United Kingdom — which covers Scotland — was not a factor in al Megrahi’s release. Still, there have since been allegations that the British government pushed hard for al Megrahi’s release because it wanted to appease Libya, which wanted al Megrahi to return home. Brown insisted Wednesday that there was no secret arrangement to release al Megrahi in exchange for oil deals. “On our part, there was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to (Moammar) Gadhafi,” he said.
Gadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi accompanied al Megrahi back to Libya last month. “The decision was based on compassionate grounds, not because of business deals,” Gadhafi said. “It was obvious. The guy is sick, seriously sick. He has cancer and because of that they made the decision and I think it was the right decision.”