Washington ‘preferred compassionate Megrahi release’

By Alex Stevenson

Barack Obama’s administration urged Edinburgh to base the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, it has emerged.

Newspapers had quoted a letter from Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US Embassy in London, to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond.

It read: “If Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer.”

Mr Salmond told Sky News this morning that the American government’s position was that they did not want Megrahi to be released – but preferred a compassionate release over a prisoner transfer deal.

“Presumably the reason that they were so opposed to the prisoner transfer agreement is on roughly the same grounds as the Scottish government had for opposing that agreement – because it was signed initially at the same time as an oil deal was being signed in the famous deal in the desert,” he said.

Elsewhere, former prime minister Tony Blair was forced to deny he had paved the way for Megrahi’s release during a meeting with Libya’s leader Colonel Gadaffi.

“There was no deal in the desert,” Mr Blair’s spokesman told the Sunday Mirror newspaper. “His release was entirely a decision for the Scottish executive.”

Megrahi was serving a 27-year sentence for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which saw 270 people die.

When he was freed last August doctors expected him to live for three months. He is now thought to be receiving better treatment in Libya – and remains alive.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill repeated his earlier rejection of an invitation to give evidence to the US Senate’s foreign relations committee.

“I am the justice secretary of Scotland, I am elected by the people of Scotland and I am answerable to the parliament of Scotland,” he said yesterday.

“I have been made available and co-operated with enquiries both in the Scottish parliament and in Westminster, and that is where jurisdiction lies.”