Hague defends BP to US Senate

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Indy Politics

British oil major BP Plc behaved in a "perfectly normal and legitimate" way in lobbying the British government in 2007 over a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a letter to a US lawmaker.

In the letter to US Senator John Kerry, Hague reiterated the British government's position that there is no evidence BP had any connection to the Scottish authorities' release last year of the man convicted of the 1988 bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

British documents show several discussions between BP and the then-British government in 2007, Hague said, when a prisoner transfer deal with Libya was being negotiated at the same time BP was pursuing an oil exploration deal with Libya.

But the convicted bomber, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was not released under the prisoner transfer deal; he was released by Scottish authorities in 2009 on compassionate grounds because of illness.

"This was a perfectly normal and legitimate practice for a British company," Hague said of BP's 2007 lobbying.

"It is the sort of exchange which occurs regularly around the world, and one that certainly did occur between a range of companies with interests in Libya and their national governments during this period," he said in the July 22 letter to Kerry, which Reuters obtained from a British diplomat.

"I believe we have a responsibility to address the unsubstantiated rumors that there was some sort of conspiracy involving BP which led to Mr. Megrahis' release," Hague wrote.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Kerry has scheduled a July 29 hearing to examine whether BP's oil interests influenced the 2009 release of the only person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bomb killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

More facts on BP's role may emerge in a review Prime Minister David Cameron ordered during a visit to the United States this week. "Once that review is complete, I will let you know the outcome," Hague promised Kerry.

There were three discussions between BP and then-British Justice Minister Jack Straw or his office between October and November 2007, and at least two contacts in the same period between BP and the British prime minister's foreign policy advisor, Hague wrote to Kerry.

" ... the progress of negotiations on the UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement and likely timing of signature of the Agreement being signed was discussed," Hague wrote.

BP had been made aware by the Libyans that failure to clinch the prisoner transfer deal could impact a BP oil exploration deal, "and wished to bring this fact to the attention of the UK government," Hague said.

The letter will likely be the British government's main submission to Kerry's committee for the hearing, the British diplomat who provided it said. Current or former British government officials are not expected to testify, he said.

Straw earlier Thursday declined the committee's invitation to appear, and Scottish officials have also declined. BP has not said whether its chief executive Tony Hayward or advisor Mark Allen will accept invitations to testify.

BP has denied it pushed Scottish authorities to release the bomber in 2009, and Scottish authorities have also denied there was any such contact with BP. Cameron stressed this week that the release was decided by Scottish authorities, and that he thought it was the wrong decision.