British business and other interests would have been damaged if the Lockerbie bomber had died in a Scottish prison instead of being allowed to return to Libya, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
Scottish authorities released Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a Libyan agent convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing in which 270 people were killed, on compassionate grounds in August.
The decision to free Megrahi, terminally ill with prostate cancer, and let him be flown home to Libya angered the US government and relatives of the 189 Americans killed when Pan Am flight 103 exploded.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government denies pressing the devolved Scottish government to free Megrahi to help improve business ties with Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Briefing parliament on the Megrahi case yesterday, Miliband said that, although the decision on whether to release him was for Scottish authorities, the British government had had a responsibility to consider the consequences.
“We assessed that although the decision was not one for the UK government, British interests including those of UK nationals, British business and possibly security cooperation would be damaged, perhaps badly, if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison rather than in Libya,” he said.
“Given the risk of Libyan adverse reaction, we made it clear to them both that as a matter of law and practice it was not a decision for the UK government and that as a matter of policy we were not seeking Megrahi’s death in Scottish custody,” he said.
He stood by previous government assertions that it had done no deal on trade in exchange for Megrahi’s release.
British firms have become heavily involved in exploring for hydrocarbons in Libya since UN sanctions were lifted in 2003 and political patronage remains important for doing business in the North African state.
Brown has condemned the rapturous welcome given to Megrahi on his return to Tripoli, but has not said whether he agreed with the decision to free him.
Pic: Abdel Basset- al Megrahi