Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi made threats to cut trade with Britain and warned of “enormous repercussions” if the Lockerbie bomber died in jail says Britain’s Guardian newspaper citing US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
Scottish authorities freed Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, jailed for life for his part in blowing up Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, in August last year on compassionate grounds because they thought he had prostate cancer and had just months to live.
The move fuelled anger in the United States, 189 of the 270 victims were American, and his survival has led to suspicion over the reason for his release, reuters reports.
“The Libyans have told HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) flat out that there will be ‘enormous repercussions’ for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi’s early release is not handled properly,” US diplomat Richard LeBaron wrote in a cable to Washington in October 2008.
Libya “convinced UK embassy officers that the consequences if Megrahi were to die in prison … would be harsh, immediate and not easily remedied,” the US ambassador to Libya was quoted as saying in another cable in January 2009.
“Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all UK commercial activity with Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties, and demonstrations against official UK facilities,” US Ambassador Gene Cretz said.
“(Libyan) officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of UK diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk,” he added. “The regime remains essentially thuggish in its approach.”
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT ‘SHOCKED’
The Guardian said the cables also showed Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, had underestimated the public outcry in the United States and Britain.
“The Scottish government severely underestimated both US government and UK public reaction to its decision,” the US ambassador in London, Louis Susman, said in an August 2009 cable.
“Alex Salmond has privately indicated that he was ‘shocked’.” US anger over Megrahi’s release resurfaced earlier this year after suggestions British energy giant BP PLC had lobbied Scotland for Megrahi’s release. BP and Scottish ministers have denied the accusations.
Former British Justice Secretary Jack Straw repeated denials that pressure from Libya had played any part in the decision to allow Megrahi to return to Libya.
“Both Alex Salmond and the British government have said until they’re blue in the face what is true, that this was a decision which was made by the Scottish government and by nobody else and they did it on the basis of their law,” he told BBC radio.
The Guardian reported that a British civil servant had told the US embassy that officials from Salmond’s Scottish National Party had sought to blame the British government for putting the Scots in a position to have to make a decision.
“It is clear that the Scottish government underestimated the blowback it would receive in response to Megrahi’s release and is now trying to paint itself as the victim,” Susman said. The Guardian said the cable also showed Libya had offered “a parade of treats” to the Scottish devolved administration if it agreed to let him go, though the cable said they were turned down.