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UK Minister: Oil Deal Influenced Lockerbie Bomber Release

A senior British minister says trade and oil deals with Libya played a "very big part" in Britain's decision to include the Lockerbie bomber in a prisoner transfer agreement between the two countries.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw told The Daily Telegraph newspaper Saturday that he was "unapologetic" about including convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in the agreement with Libya, signed two years ago, just as British oil giant BP was seeking a multimillion dollar contract there.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was "no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil" linked to Megrahi's early release last month from a Scottish prison.

Megrahi was the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The bombing killed 270 people.

Straw acknowledged to The Daily Telegraph that British trade interests were a crucial factor in the 2007 prisoner transfer negotiations with Libya, which he called a "rogue state" that "we wanted to bring back into the fold."

A few weeks later, in January 2008, Libya ratified a $900 million oil deal with BP.

The British oil firm has acknowledged that it pressed the government to speed up talks on a prisoner transfer deal with Libya. But BP says it did not raise the Megrahi case specifically.

Scottish authorities insisted they acted on humanitarian grounds after Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence, because he was near death from cancer.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa told The Times newspaper Saturday that trade had nothing to do with Megrahi's release and that Libya was grateful to the British and Scottish governments for their humanity.

Megrahi received a hero's welcome when he returned to Libya on August 20.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.