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Report Cites Libyan Oil Deal in Lockerbie Bomber Release

A published report says Britain decided in 2007 to make the Lockerbie bomber eligible for a return to Libya, after talks stalled between Libya and British petroleum giant BP over a huge oil exploration deal.

Britain's Sunday Times reports that Justice Minister Jack Straw in December 2007 dropped attempts to exclude convicted bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement. Weeks later, both sides ratified a Libyan oil exploration deal potentially worth nearly $25 billion.

The newspaper said it based its report on leaked correspondence between Straw and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill. In one reported letter, Straw cites what he calls "the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom" in the prisoner transfer decision.

Last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted his government had no role in the decision to release Megrahi, who has terminal cancer and was sent home by Scotland on compassionate grounds.

BP has denied that political factors played a role in the oil deal's ratification.

Mr. Brown said the decision to release Megrahi August 20 was Scotland's alone.

Megrahi was serving a life sentence for the bombing of PanAm Flight 103. The December 20, 1988 explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland killed all 259 people on board and 11 others on the ground.

Megrahi's release triggered strong criticism from relatives of the 270 victims, many of whom were Americans returning home for the holidays. It also sparked a statement of regret from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Prime Minister Brown said he was angered and repulsed by the hero's reception given Megrahi on his return to Libya Thursday.

In Tripoli, where many consider Megrahi an unjustly accused political prisoner, a Megrahi relative told VOA the cancer patient could be hospitalized as early as Sunday.