THE APPEAL of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi has been plagued by bitter in-fighting because members of his defence team have not been paid for their services.
The Scotsman has learned that Megrahi’s Libyan backers owe tens of thousands of pounds to the lawyers and spin doctors hired to bolster his case. Two members of the defence team have already resigned from the organising committee and one has even served a writ on Megrahi’s UK representative, claiming 30,000 in unpaid fees.
Megrahi was found guilty a year ago of mass murder for bombing New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky in December 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew and 11 people in Lockerbie.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years.
His co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was cleared. Megrahi’s appeal is due to start on Wednesday.
Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading American civil rights lawyer and one of the main legal brains behind the appeal, has admitted technical specialists and lawyers gathering vital evidence for the case have yet to be paid by the Libyans.
He said: "I’ve been a consultant to the law firm and (I know) some people have not been paid. Some of the experts have not been paid as well. Some of the people that have been retained to do some of the scientific research on the case have not been paid."
Professor Dershowitz’s comments came after David Wynn Morgan and Patrick Robertson, the London-based PR experts brought in to publicise the appeal, resigned from their posts over financial disputes.
Mr Robertson has served a writ on Stephen Mitchell, the representative for Needleman Treon, Megrahi’s London-based solicitors, for almost 30,000.
Last night, Mr Robertson, who has represented former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, confirmed he had served a writ on Mr Mitchell. He said: "I was forced to resign from the committee because I was not paid the agreed sum in my contract to assist the team. I was brought in to inform the media on the case, set up a website on the appeal and organise a seminar for the committee and I had agreed a sum to carry out these functions.
"Unfortunately I have been forced to issue a writ to retrieve the money owed to me, that is now public knowledge and it is a position I would rather not be in."
It has also emerged that Mr Wynn Morgan resigned from the appeal committee by sending an e-mail to his colleagues, stating he was no longer in a position to carry out his duties. The disagreement is said to have come to a head after a five-figure cheque paid to Mr Wynn Morgan’s PR firm was allegedly stopped by representatives acting for the Libyans. A source close to Mr Wynn Morgan said: "David did resign from the appeal committee and it is fair to suggest there was a financial disagreement but we are in a tricky position at the moment.
"All we can say is this ‘disagreement’ has since been resolved and we hope to contribute more to the team in the future, but it was the basis for our withdrawal from the appeal team."
An appeal team insider suggested the timing for the dispute could not be worse and the growing financial cloud hanging over the committee could undermine the Libyan’s case.
He said: "There is a growing unease in the team and many of the lawyers and specialists who have contributed to the appeal feel they have been used by the Libyans."
Megrahi’s appeal is being financed and co-ordinated by a consortium of Libyan lawyers headed by Tripoli-based academic Dr Ibrahim Legwell.
In a bid to bolster the appeal case, the Libyan lawyers raised funds to recruit the services of some of the world’s leading legal minds and PR men.
The appeal is to be heard by Scotland’s highest-ranking judge, Lord Cullen, the Lord Justice-General, sitting with Lords Kirkwood, Osborne, Macfadyen and Nimmo Smith.
Professor Robert Black, QC, of Edinburgh University, who helped to pave the way for the Lockerbie trial to be held in a neutral country, believes that Megrahi should win his appeal.
He added: "I did not believe either of the accused should have been convicted, and it is pretty plain my view is that the appeal should succeed, simply because Megrahi should never have been convicted in the first place on the evidence that was led.
"I believe that conclusions drawn by the court, that Megrahi bought clothing on Malta on a day when he was known to be on the island, went against the weight of the evidence.
"These conclusions were absolutely vital to his conviction. But it is very difficult for five judges to turn round and say, ‘Our three very senior colleagues at the trial got it wrong and they were not entitled to convict.’ I’m not oozing confidence that my view will turn out to be correct."