Families: Megrahi's release a business deal

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THE families of US Lockerbie victims say revelations on whistleblowing website WikiLeaks about Libyan inducements to secure Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's release show it was a "business deal".

• Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi arrives at Glasgow airport to board a plane after arriving from Greenock Prison last year. Picture: Getty

The latest diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks claim it was First Minister Alex Salmond who was behind the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber - and claim a "parade of treats" was offered to Scottish ministers to free him.

Opposition parties insist the Scottish Government now has fresh questions to answer.

Cables from US diplomatic staff contain claims that Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, made explicit and "thuggish" threats to halt trade deals with Britain if Megrahi died in jail - and that senior diplomats feared reprisals on British citizens.

Bob Monetti, whose son Rick died in the bombing, said: "It's exactly what we said all along. The UK and Scots totally caved in because they need Libyan oil.

"It has nothing to do with justice, it has nothing to do with anything else except business - and business trumps."

Of the Scottish ministers, he added: "For whatever reason, whether they were pressured by Gaddafi or by the Brits, they clearly violated their own law by letting someone go on compassionate (grounds] who had at least two years to live, when compassionate release is three months left."

Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter was also among the victims, said: "It's obvious what it was and there's no great surprises here.

• Analysis: Circumstances of Megrahi release still very cloudy

"All it does is give us more proof, and we've already had a lot, that that's what it was - a business deal.

"You should be ashamed in Scotland because nothing else mattered, nothing about your legal system."

But ministers insist the decision was based purely on the Scots justice system.

Mr Salmond said the cables "vindicated" their position and everything they had said publicly and privately at the time.

"We weren't interested in threats, we weren't interested in blandishments, we were only interested in applying Scots justice and that's what we did," he said.

He added that no specific "treats" had been offered because they had "made clear to every interested party that we were not interested in any other matter".But Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the tragedy, said the leaks indicate that Mr Salmond was behind the decision.

"It looks as though the Scottish Government was at least thought by the US ambassador in London to be considering compassionate release at an early stage," he said.

Dr Swire, who visited Megrahi around this time and believes he is innocent, said he was not ill enough at this stage for compassionate release to be a possibility. I think its very interesting that a letter from that date should be suggesting compassionate release that early."

WikiLeaks have also "firmed up" suspicions that the ultimate decision to release Megrahi was not taken by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, according to Dr Swire.

He said: "It's pretty clear that he was operating under the advice of Salmond."

One cable between Ben Lyons in charge of North Africa in Downing Street and Rob Dixon, his Foreign Office counterpart, states: "The Libyans have not yet made a formal application for compassionate release . . . but HMG believes the Scottish (Government] may be inclined to grant the request when it comes, based on conversations between Alex Salmond and UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw."

The papers show that ministers, including then foreign secretary Jack Straw, believed that Megrahi could have five years to live - contrary to medical advice that it as only three months.

According to the leaked diplomatic documents, Mr Salmond told the US consul in Edinburgh on 21 August this year that "he and his government had played straight with both the US and the UK government, but implied the UK had not . . . He said the Libyan government had offered the Scottish Government a parade of treats, 'all of which were turned down'."

The leaks claim to show the UK Government feared harsh action by Libya against British interests if Megrahi died in prison.

Former UK justice secretary Jack Straw also said the revelations had no connection to the final decision.

"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, " Mr Straw said.

US anger over Megrahi's release resurfaced earlier this year after suggestions British energy giant BP had lobbied Scotland for his release.BP and Scottish ministers have denied the accusations.

The Scottish Government released Megrahi in August 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and was expected to die within three months. He returned to Libya and is still alive.

He is the only man convicted of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 which killed 270 people and is still the UK's worst terrorist atrocity.

The published cables allege Col Gaddafi made threats to the British government to halt all trade deals if Megrahi stayed in prison.

Conservative MSP Bill Aitken, convenor of Holyrood's justice committee said: "The First Minister had denied any deals, but the inference still is that the Scottish Government was hell-bent on releasing Megrahi and seized on very flimsy evidence to enable them to do so."

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker added: "After over a year of being told that this decision was Mr MacAskill's and Mr MacAskill's alone we learn it was actually Mr Salmond that made the decision and used his Justice Secretary as a human shield."