Four U.S. senators are calling for the State Department to investigate whether the BP oil company might have pressured Britain to free the only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing to facilitate an oil deal with Libya.
Four Democratic U.S. senators held a news conference on Capitol Hill to call for an investigation into allegations that a 2007 BP oil agreement with Libya might have influenced the British and Scottish governments to release Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey said it was reported in September that BP communicated to the British government concerns that possible delays in the release of the Lockerbie bomber might jeopardize a $900-million oil deal with Libya.
Senator Schumer put it like this:
"Now it is almost too disgusting to fathom that BP had a possible role in securing the release of the Lockerbie terrorist in return for an oil drilling deal with Libya," he said. "It can be described in two words, "blood money," if that is what happened."
Senator Lautenberg said BP appears to have convinced British officials to "hold their noses" and strike a deal with Libya.
"The picture is becoming very clear," said Senator Lautenberg. "Not only does BP have terrible management, it has no character."
A BP statement says the company did not make an appeal for al-Megrahi and says it was solely a matter for the Scottish Executive and not for the British government.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said there was no "double-dealing" linked to al-Megrahi's release from a Scottish prison in August 2009. But former British Justice Secretary Jack Straw told The Daily Telegraph newspaper in September that trade and oil, including BP's agreement with Libya, were a part of the prisoner transfer talks.
Scottish authorities freed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds after doctors diagnosed him with terminal prostate cancer and estimated that he only had three months to live. His release sparked international outrage and strong protests from U.S. leaders and the families of the bombing victims.
In their letter to Secretary Clinton, the U.S. senators noted that al-Megrahi is still alive and reportedly living in luxury.
Senator Menendez said the State Department and the British government have a lot to investigate.
"There is plenty here when you have doctors saying that they, in essence, were paid to give a certain disposition that gave al-Megrahi the opportunity to be released," he said. "There is plenty here when you have the allegations, but you know manifested in written documents, to ensure that a prisoner transfer took place in order to get a commercial deal."
British Ambassador to the United States Nigel Sheinwald responded in a letter to the inquiry from the four U.S. senators. He said the decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was made by the Scottish Executive on the basis of the medical information available to them at the time.
The senators say they strongly believe that the families of victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people have a right to know whether justice was compromised for commercial interests. The senators also called for BP to halt plans to drill off the coast of Libya in coming weeks.