Did BP play a role in the release of a notorious terrorist?
U.S. lawmaker is calling on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to investigate whether BP influenced the release of Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.
Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey wants to know whether a quid pro quo led to the 2009 decision by U.K. and Scottish lawmakers to set the Libyan terrorist free. Megrahi sentenced to life in prison in 2001, but released last year when doctors said he had only three months to live before dying of cancer. A doctor now says he could live a decade, according to the Associated Press. The senator wants to know whether the bomber's release was connected to a BP plan to drill for oil off Libya, which the senator says could earn the company up to $20 billion.
In a letter written to Sens. John Kerry and Dick Lugar, the committee chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, Lautenberg called for a full investigation. He wrote:
"Reports have surfaced indicating that a 2007 oil agreement may have influenced the U.K. and Scottish governments' positions concerning Mr. Megrahi’s release in 2009. BP admits that in 2007 it 'told the U.K. government ... it was concerned that a delay in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with the Libyan government might hurt' the oil deal. Furthermore, letters have been released showing that Jack Straw, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Justice, initially intended to exclude Mr. Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement but later switched his position, citing the 'wider negotiations with the Libyans' and 'overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom.' BP has just announced it will begin deepwater drilling next month off Libya's coast, and it is estimated BP could earn as much as $20 billion from the deal. It is shocking to even contemplate that this company is profiting from the release of a terrorist with the blood of 189 Americans on his hands."
Megrahi's August 2009 release — on "compassionate" grounds due to supposed imminent death from cancer — caused an uproar in the U.S. and Europe. Anger over the decision has cascaded with Megrahi's continued survival in the months after the release, climaxing with the news that the doctor who diagnosed him may have been paid off by the Libyan government and that Megrahi could survive for 10 to 20 years.
In response to the letter, the British Embassy in Washington defended the decision to release Megrahi, saying it was "made on the basis of advice from the Director of Health at the Scottish Prison Service, who drew on the advice of a number of medical experts."
BP has refused to comment on what it calls mere "speculation."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously said Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey had joined Lautenberg in his call for an investigation into BP's possible role in Megrahi's release. It appears as though the three senators did not specifically co-sign Lautenberg's call for an investigation into this particular aspect of Megrahi's release, though they have joined him in calling for an investigation in the overall circumstances that led to the release. We apologize for the error.