Scots and US officials to meet over Megrahi

SCOTTISH Government officials and a leading Labour MSP are to hold talks with staff connected to the United States Senate inquiry into the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Discussions are to take place later this week, as the row continues over the release from jail of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland.

Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was allowed to return home to Libya more than a year ago after doctors concluded a three-month prognosis for his life expectancy was "a reasonable estimate".

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker has promised to call for publication of Megrahi's medical reports when he meets the representative of US Senator Robert Menendez in Edinburgh on Thursday. Senator Menendez is a member of the committee on foreign relations, which has launched an inquiry into Megrahi's release.

The committee wants to investigate concerns the bomber's release was linked to an oil deal - a suggestion strongly denied by all parties involved. First Minister Alex Salmond has said the claim is "totally wrong".

In his reply to a letter from the committee members making the oil-deal claim, Mr Salmond said he would "make appropriate officials available to meet staff from your offices" if they came to Scotland. A spokesman for the First Minister confirmed that the US Embassy had been approached on Friday about a meeting with a representative of Senator Menendez. It is likely to take place during the next few days.

Mr Baker, who will hold a separate meeting with the senator's official, said: "(Justice secretary] Kenny MacAskill and other SNP ministers took the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and the medical evidence that they relied upon has not been published.

"To get to the truth of the matter, the senators should focus their attentions on that advice."

The Labour MSP said he was "minded" to believe the First Minister that no external pressure had been placed on ministers to secure Megrahi's release.

However, he criticised the SNP government's reluctance to release the opinions of doctors on Megrahi's condition. He said: "I know the US senators have put forward many theories, but I will tell them that their focus needs to be on the man who made the decision to release Scotland's worst mass murderer and the evidence that the man who released him now relies on."

Meanwhile, the First Minister, in his letter to the senators, said he was "drawing a line under" correspondence with the committee on the issue.Mr Salmond said: "The substantial evidence that does exist shows that the Scottish Government specifically rejected any attempt to bring commercial or business considerations into the decision-making process on compassionate release, and stated that decisions would be based on judicial grounds alone.

"As I have said previously, the Scottish Government has nothing to hide and nothing to fear from any properly constituted inquiry, but the Scottish Government is rightly accountable to the Scottish Parliament and not to the US Senate."

He went on: "I believe that the Scottish Government has given every assistance to you and to the foreign relations committee on this matter. I am content to offer the courtesy of an official-level meeting if staff from your offices visit Scotland.

"However, as your recent letters raise no new issues of substance, I am now drawing a line under this correspondence."

Back to the top of the page