BP denies lobbying for Lockerbie bomber release

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BP was under renewed pressure from the United States today over claims that it lobbied the British Government for the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

The beleaguered oil giant confirmed today that it had pressed the Government over the signing of a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya which paved the way for the return last year of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

However, it said that it had made no representations concerning al-Megrahi's actual release by the Scottish Executive.

The company - already under fire over the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico - issued its statement after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would look into the claims made by a group of Democrat senators.

In a letter to Mrs Clinton the senators questioned whether BP was prepared to "trade justice ... for oil profits" over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in which 270 people died.

The prisoner transfer agreement with Libya was signed by the former Labour government in 2007 - the same year that BP signed a 900 million dollar exploration agreement with the North African state.

Al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in August last year - having served just eight years of a life sentence - on compassionate grounds after doctors advised he had just three months to live.

The decision sparked fury in the US, with a further wave of anger when it was disclosed recently that doctors now believed that he could live for another decade.

In its statement, BP acknowledged that it had expressed concern that delays in signing the prisoner transfer agreement could affect its chances of successfully completing its exploration agreement with the Libyans.

But it said that it had no involvement with al-Megrahi's release.

"It is a matter of public record that in late 2007 BP told the UK Government that we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya," the statement said.

"We were aware that this could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan government of BP's exploration agreement.

"The decision to release Mr al-Megrahi in August 2009 was taken by the Scottish Government. It's not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish Government. BP was not involved in any discussions with the UK Government or the Scottish Government about the release of Mr al-Megrahi."

Downing Street also denied that there was any link between BP and al-Megrahi's release.

"The last government made the position clear," said the Prime Minister's official spokesman. "There was a decision taken and it was a decision taken by the Scottish Executive."