Lockerbie: now it's payback time

Prospect of lucrative trade deals fuels anger at Megrahi's release

British businesses were poised for a Libyan windfall last night after the release of the convicted terrorist Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi completed a five-year rehabilitation for the north African state.

British trade leaders said the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was a major breakthrough in relations between the two nations, which have progressed at breakneck speed since Tony Blair met the former pariah leader Muammar Gaddafi in a bedouin tent outside Tripoli in 2004.

Col Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, last night said that Megrahi's release was linked to trade deals with Britain, with British oil, gas and water treatment companies, banks, security contractors, tobacco firms and even women's high-street clothing stores in line for hundreds of millions of pounds of business.

Lord Trefgarne, the former trade minister who chairs the Libyan-British Business Council, declared yesterday that there would be "benefits" for British firms from the decision to release Megrahi – adding to the row over the Scottish administration's decision to free him on compassionate grounds to return home to Libya.

John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga was on Pan Am Flight 103, said: "It seems clear to me that some sort of deal was done between Libya, Britain and America to get Megrahi to drop his appeal. We know that these [trade deals] go on ... but if they come at the price of truth and justice, then I'm afraid we no longer live in a civilised society. It's obscene. If that is the case here, which does seem likely, it stinks."

The political fall-out of the decision to release Megrahi escalated yesterday, as he returned home to joyous scenes, with hundreds of Libyans waving flags and swarming his convoy. The White House said the scenes in Tripoli were "outrageous and incredibly offensive" and the US President Barack Obama described the homecoming as "highly objectionable".

Earlier the Tory leader David Cameron urged Gordon Brown to break his silence on Megrahi's release. In a letter to Mr Brown, Mr Cameron said: "I believe that the public are entitled to know what you think of the decision to release Megrahi, and whether you consider it was right or wrong."

Downing Street disclosed that the Prime Minister had personally appealed to Col Gaddafi, in a letter the day before Megrahi's release from Greenock prison, for the terminally ill former intelligence officer to be given a low-key return rather than a hero's welcome.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, condemned the triumphant scenes in Tripoli as "distasteful". "Obviously, the sight of a mass murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing," he added.

But Mr Miliband strongly denied that Megrahi had been freed to improve commercial relations. "I really reject that entirely," he said. "That is a slur both on myself and the Government."

And in an interview with The Times, Megrahi said that he intended to produce evidence proving his innocence. "My message to the British and Scottish communities is that I will put out the evidence and they will be the jury," he said.

Lord Trefgarne, a defence minister at the time of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, said: "In Libya, business matters and political matters are inextricably entwined."

Mr Islam, considered his father's most likely successor, declared: "I affirm that the Libyan people will not forget this brave stance from the governments of Britain and Scotland and that friendship between us will be enhanced forever."

The oil giant BP, which returned to Libya in 2007 after Mr Blair signed a deal with Col Gaddafi for a $900m joint venture, will be foremost among those UK companies expected to profit. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, at 42 billion barrels.

"The potential is very large," said a spokesman for BP. "There's a lot of hope that new resources will be found there. You could be looking at an investment of $20bn over a couple of decades." BP is expected to now be able to push forward at speed with its geological study of the Sirte basin, an offshore area the size of Belgium.

UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the government body that helps British companies win contracts abroad, is aggressively advising UK firms on how to succeed in Tripoli. Industry sources say that the sectors most likely to benefit from such a windfall include oil, gas, water and financial services.

Libya has $5bn to invest across Africa and is seeking British joint venture partners to match investment in hotels, oil and mineral extraction and banks. Even British high-street retailers are moving in to Tripoli: Next will open its first Libyan store on 8 October, joining Marks & Spencer, Bhs and Monsoon Accessorize.

The pest control company Rentokil was called in by the Libyan government this year to eradicate the infestations of desert rats which blight several cities. Rentokil uncovered an outbreak of bubonic plague in the north-eastern town of Tobruk, and is looking into setting up an office in Libya.

UK visible exports to Libya last year totalled £280m, up one-fifth on 2007. In the first five months of 2009, UK exports to Libya rose by 49 per cent to £166m. UKTI estimates that at least 150 British companies operate in Libya. The Duke of York, a trade ambassador for Britain, has visited Libya four times in two years and met Col Gaddafi and his son.

Lord Trefgarne said the "positive" decision on Megrahi would bring relief to the business community. There would have been a "distinct cooling" in commercial relations had he not been released. He said that British business links had initially developed more slowly than the council had hoped. "Perhaps now, with what I would assume to be the final resolution of the Lockerbie affair as far as the Libyans are concerned, maybe they will move forward a little more swiftly," he said.

The Scottish Parliament has been recalled next week and the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is expected to come under fierce questioning. Alex Salmond, the SNP First Minister, hinted that political considerations played a part: "There is no doubt that politics came into it – but not from the Scottish Government."

British business interests in Libya

According to UK Trade & Investment, at least 150 British businesses operate in Libya. They include:

*BP

In 2007, the company signed a deal worth $900m with the Libyan government. It plans to explore an area of 54,000 sq km.

*Shell

Moments after Tony Blair concluded his talks with Colonel Gaddafi in March 2004, the Anglo-Dutch company announced that it had signed a deal worth £550m for the right to explore gas reserves off the Libyan coast.

*BG Group

The gas producer has been active in Libya since 2005, scouring an area of thousands of square kilometres in the country's onshore Sirt Basin.

*Marks & Spencer

The British retailer opened a store in Tripoli in 2008, a stone's throw from the British Council's headquarters.

*Rentokil

At the beginning of this year, the pest-control company won a £24m contract after the Libyan government became worried by desert rat infestations in several cities. A 32-strong team discovered an outbreak of bubonic plague in the north-eastern town of Tobruk.

* ... and the rest

Bhs opened a shop in Tripoli in April, Monsoon and Accessorise have a joint branch in the city and Next plans to open its first store in October.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game