Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Saturday, 22 August 2009 16:18 UK

'No business deal' over Megrahi

Lord Mandelson: There has been "no brokered deal" with the Libyan government

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has said suggestions that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was linked to a UK-Libya trade deal are "offensive".

He added that it was "implausible" that the UK would barter over the fate of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi and then tell the Scottish Government to free him.

Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi's son has said Megrahi's case was raised during talks with the UK over oil and gas.

Col Gadaffi has thanked Gordon Brown for "encouraging" the release.

The Scottish Government freed 57-year-old Megrahi - who is dying from cancer - on Thursday, citing compassionate grounds.

The Libyan leader praised them for taking a "courageous" decision and also thanked those who he said had encouraged it, including the Queen and Prince Andrew as well as his "friend" Mr Brown.

[Col Gadaffi's son] raised the issue of the Libyan prisoner in Scotland's release, as all representatives of the Libyan government do
UK Business Secretary Lord Mandelson

Following the release Col Gadaffi's son, Saif al-Islam, told Libyan TV Megrahi's case was "always on the negotiating table" during talks with the UK on commercial contracts.

Speaking as he left a London hospital following a prostate operation, Lord Mandelson said he had met Col Gadaffi's son twice this year.

"As I have already stated, on both occasions [he] raised the issue of the Libyan prisoner in Scotland's release, as all representatives of the Libyan government do," Lord Mandelson said.

"They had the same response from me as they would have had from any other member of the government. The issue of the prisoner's release was entirely a matter for the Scottish Justice Minister."

He said "categorically", there was "no agreement between the Libyan government and the British government".

He said the idea that the UK Government had made a business deal with Libya, then called up the Scottish nationalist government and told them to free the prisoner was wrong.

"It's not only wrong, it's completely implausible and actually quite offensive," he added.

He said that Col Gadaffi's son was not claiming a deal had been done, but was merely stating that the issue had been raised in meetings.

Any trade and investment relations would take their course regardless of what happened to Megrahi, he added.

'Commercial contracts'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has so far made no comment about the release, although it has emerged he wrote to Col Gaddafi to ask that Libya "act with sensitivity" in welcoming Megrahi back to the country.

However there were scenes of jubilation at his return, and Col Gaddafi then defied criticism from the UK and the US by meeting Megrahi on Libyan TV. The men were pictured talking and hugging.

Megrahi with Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi

As he praised the decision to release Megrahi, Col Gaddafi said the step would be "for the benefit of relations between Britain and Libya, and relations of personal friendship between me and them".

"It will certainly be positively reflected in all fields of co-operation between the two countries," he added.

In an interview, Col Gadaffi's son Seif al-Islam called Megrahi's release a "victory", and claimed that the issue had been raised repeatedly in talks with Britain.

"In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, (Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table," Mr Islam told Libya's Al Mutawassit channel.

Former prime minister Tony Blair visited Libya in May 2007, during which UK energy giant BP signed a $900m (£540m) exploration deal.

On Saturday Mr Blair told US network CNN that the Libyans did raise the issue of Megrahi, but he said he told them he did not have the power to release the prisoner.

The UK Foreign Office has also insisted the release of Megrahi -convicted of killing 270 people aboard a transatlantic airliner in 1988 - was a matter solely for the devolved Scottish authorities.

This won't have any long term affect on relations with the US, but the decision shows a lack of empathy for the families of the murdered, and it will affect them
Gerry Giambattista, Pennsylvania

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said suggestions to the contrary were "a slur" on him and on the government.

But shadow foreign affairs minister, David Liddington, urged the government to be more open about its relationship with Tripoli.

"It is very important... that it is made clear beyond any doubt that this was not connected with some political trade," he said.

The Liberal Democrat's foreign affairs spokesman, Ed Davey, said the British government had questions to answer.

"It's been surprising that Gordon Brown's been so reluctant to speak out on the issue," he said.

Meanwhile, Megrahi has told the Times newspaper he intends to present new evidence proving his innocence.

He said he was "very, very happy" to be free.

The bomber's release - and the hero's welcome he was given on return to Libya - provoked anger from politicians and many relatives of those who died aboard Pan-Am flight 103, particularly in the US.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific