Film claims stir Lockerbie row

THE BEWILDERED families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing have faced the most bizarre, and to many, the most insulting moment in their five-year struggle to see the murderers of 270 people put on trial: the arrival of a Libyan-financed documentary team on their doorsteps.

Scottish and American indictments allege that two Libyan security officers were responsible. Since November 1991, Colonel Gaddafi has refused to extradite them to face trial in Scotland.

The international arguments have been propelled directly into the lives of the Lockerbie families. A company owned by Lonrho and the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico) decided to produce a documentary which lawyers for the relatives of the American dead allege is likely to become part of a propaganda campaign to suggest that the charges are part of a Western conspiracy.

Alan Francovich - a fast- talking and nervous film-maker from Los Angeles, who is now based in Belsize Park, north London - was put in charge. He has been arriving at relatives' homes, exuding an apparently genuine air of sympathy.

Lee Kreindler, who heads the legal team for American relatives, said Francovich had tried to win over the families by saying he was a friend of John Merritt, an Observer journalist greatly respected by the relatives of the dead for going to the United States and testifying on their behalf when he was in the final stages of leukaemia.

Francovich absolutely misrepresented himself to us,' Mr Kreindler said. 'He did not mention any link with Libya.

'We were quite willing to help him make his film, until we found out about the money,' added Dan Cohen, whose daughter Theo died at Lockerbie. 'The fact that he kept quiet about his backers means he is completely discredited in my eyes.'

But not everyone has turned the producer away. Jim Swire, the leader of the British relatives, who has become suspicious of official explanations partly because of the failure to hold any public or Parliamentary inquiry in Britain, said the American was visibly shaken by the sight of his daughter's grave when they met last year.

'He was clearly moved by the Swire family story,' Dr Swire said. 'He told me his life was in danger but that he wanted to do everything possible to find the truth. I liked the chap.'

Francovich runs Hemar Enterprises in Kilburn which is owned by Metropole Hotels, which in turn is two-thirds owned by Lonrho and one-third by Lafico. Metropole's directors are 'Tiny' Rowland, Lonrho's chief executive and former proprietor of the Observer, Ken Etheridge, Lonrho's head of security, and Smeida el-Naili, a director of Lafico.

After the Libyan involvement in the firm was revealed in the press in November, Lonrho announced in January that it would withdraw support and said it would use copyright law to ensure the film was never shown.

But the Hemar Enterprises offices are still open and Francovich says the film - The Maltese Double Cross - will be shown across Europe in the spring. He refuses to discuss where the money for the project is now coming from, but promised that none of the information he has collected, believed to include the transcript of a Scottish police interview, will be handed on to Libya.

For American relatives the concern about the film is wider than a dislike of what they inveitably see as a Libyan propaganda ploy.

They fear it will thicken the fog of competing conspiracy theories and assertions of guilt and innocence which have covered the Lockerbie case. 'We saw Clinton on the fifth anniversary in December last year and I told him it's getting like the who-killed-Kennedy industry,' said Susan Cohen, Dan Cohen's wife. 'At times it seems like every nut and hoaxer in America is jumping on the bandwagon.'

Francovich does not behave like a sinister man. He will not allow his photograph to be taken, because he says he is frightened that unspecified powerful people want him dead. But he still talks reasonably freely.

'We will show that the US government knew Pan Am 103 was going down and did nothing about it,' he said. 'The first people on the scene (at Lockerbie) were from the CIA and they removed evidence. They knew that drugs were going through Frankfurt. The Scottish police were never allowed to conduct an independent investigation.'

This 'drugs theory'is not new. It has been popping up all over the world for at least three years.

According to the story, there was a CIA or US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) drug-smuggling route running from Lebanon to New York via Cyprus and Frankfurt. Pan Am 103 was blown up because a terrorist cell from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), whose members were rounded up by the German authorities and then released just before the bombing, switched the suitcase containing heroin for the bomb. A variant holds that the rogue, drug-smuggling US agents blew up the plane to kill good US agents who could expose them.

The latest published version has come from Lester Coleman, a low-level DEA informer in Cyprus in the early 1980s, in his book Trail of the Octopus.

The problem for conspiracy theorists is that Coleman is a compromised figure. Leaving aside the fact that he is wanted in the US on passport fraud charges, sceptics have pointed out that his views suited two vested interests very well indeed.

Any evidence which can pin blame on the US government for the bombings would not only help the Libyans but also Pan Am's fight against compensation claims from the relatives.

If the CIA or any other agency was involved, the airline could argue, it should be the US government that foots the bill.

Documents filed during the court hearings included a letter from James M Shaughnessy, Pan Am's lawyer, stating that Coleman had been in the pay of Pan Am. He received dollars 47,000 for his work on developing the drugs theory, which he and an associate, Juval Aviv, helped place in several American newspapers and magazines before his book was published.

'The Coleman and the Francovich scenarios are just rubbish and propaganda,' claimed Lee Kreindler. ''There is just not a shred of evidence. In the end Pan Am could not mention the drugs theory in court. They knew we would have taken them apart if they had.'

If the drugs theory is one side of the coin, the British and US authorities' unshakeable belief in the strength of their case against Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fimah, the two Libyans accused of placing the bomb in an unaccompanied suitcase in Malta which was tagged to be transferred on to Pan Am 103 at Frankfurt, is the other.

Privately, the authorities admit that after Syria's support for the West in the Gulf war it may seem convenient that two Libyans rather than members of the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC are wanted to stand trial. But Scottish police were first linking the bomb with Malta and therefore the two Libyans in 1989, two years before the war.

Intelligence officers have speculated that when the cover of the terrorists rounded up in Frankfurt was blown, they may have passed on the operation to the Libyans, or the Libyans may have taken advantage of the fact that the finger of guilt would point to the Palestinians and acted on their own.

Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of the Lockerbie investigation for the CIA, said last week: 'The investigation has been driven by the collection of forensic evidence, not intelligence. Almost all of the major developments have come from laboratory analyses which did not and do not lend themselves to politicking. All this drugs stuff is total fabrication. We never found anything to do with drugs.'

Last year it appeared that claims from the Swiss company Mebo, which unwittingly made the timer for the Lockerbie bomb, could undermine the Scottish case. The company said it had also sold timers to the East Germans, who were in contact with the PFLP-GC. But the company has since admitted that it has received 'legal, travel and other expenses' from Libya while collecting evidence which could help the accused pair.

The investigators treat the Mebo issue with contempt. 'We allege that the circuit boards can be shown in court to be one which was sold to Libya not East Germany,' said Mr Cannistraro. 'And in any case the circuit board evidence is not central to our case.'

The bitter debate, the accusations of official connivance in the murder of 270 people, and the counter-charge of collaboration with Libyans, has led to relatives fighting each other.

Dr Swire has been to Libya and met Colonel Gaddafi. Last month, Gaddafi approvingly quoted Dr Swire's support for the two Libyans to be tried at an international court in the Hague rather than Scotland.

In December Dr Swire was quoted in the Guardian as saying that he 'had good reason to believe Coleman's drug theories' even though they provided an escape route for Pan Am's lawyers. 'We may be faced with the decision of whether we want the money or the truth,' he said.

A horrified Daniel Cohen saw the article. 'I know of no one, no one, who would ignore the truth about the murder of a child or husband or wife or brother or sister just for money,' he said in a letter to Dr Swire. 'Yes, governments lie. Your government lies and my government lies. But lawyers for insurance companies also lie, so do shady low-life fugitives and weepy TV producers. If you can't see that, you can't see anything.'

(Photographs omitted)

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Flat out: Michael Flatley will return to the stage in his show Lord Of The Dance
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape