Libya applies for Lockerbie bomber to be sent home

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The Independent Online

Libya has applied to the Scottish government for a former Libyan agent convicted and jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing to be sent back to his homeland.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was sentenced to life in jail for blowing up a Pan Am airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York on 18 December, 1988, killing all 259 people on board, including 189 Americans, and 11 people on the ground.

"An application has been received for a prisoner transfer on behalf of Mr (Abdel Basset al-) Megrahi from the Libyan authorities," a spokeswoman for the Scottish government said.

She said the application would be considered in a process that could take around 90 days.

Megrahi, 57, is suffering from prostate cancer.

If he is sent home, it would be the latest milestone in Libya's Muammar Gaddafi's transition from international pariah once accused by the United States of building banned weapons to a leader with increasingly normal relations with the West.

But some Libyan commentators believe there could be a price to pay for Megrahi's return: awarding lucrative contracts to Western companies which want to develop the North African country's oil and gas reserves.

The application for Megrahi to be allowed to go home was made under the terms of a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) between Britain and Libya which was ratified last week.

"The application will be considered by officials who will provide information and advice to Scottish ministers for decision on this matter," the spokeswoman said.

"Under the terms of the agreement this process may take 90 days although it could be longer if further information is required in relation to the application, or for another reason."

The PTA, which was drawn up in 2007 but had to be ratified before it could come into force, sets a framework for an application to be made, but any decision will be made by Scottish government, since Megrahi was convicted under Scottish law.

Four years after Megrahi's conviction in 2001, Libya accepted responsibility and agreed to pay some $2.7bn in compensation to the victims' families - a move that helped clear the way for the lifting of sanctions and the restoration of Libya's ties with Western states.

Megrahi's lawyers opened a second appeal against his conviction in a Scottish court last week, but sources close to the case say it may now be withdrawn.