Senate may investigate BP's role in release of Megrahi

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The Independent US

Hillary Clinton heaped further pressure on BP yesterday as she announced the US State Department would consider an investigation into the beleaguered energy giant's role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber last year.

The Secretary of State said she had received a letter from four Democrat senators alleging that BP put pressure on the Scottish government to release Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi to help the company's efforts to win drilling licences put up for tender by Tripoli.

Megrahi was released in August last year after doctors in Scotland said he was suffering from developed prostate cancer and had just three months to live. Reports from Libya suggest that his health has improved, and it is thought that he could now live for another decade.

"It is shocking to even contemplate that BP is profiting from the release of a terrorist with the blood of 189 Americans on his hands," one of the senators, Frank Lautenberg, wrote in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The families of the victims of PanAm flight 103 deserve to know whether justice took a back seat to commercial interests in this case."

A total of 270 people died when the aircraft exploded over the Scottish town in December 1988.

BP is expected to start drilling for oil in the Gulf of Sidra off Libya within the next two weeks after being granted concession rights in 2007.

Yesterday the group said it had never hidden its concern that delays in the decision to release Megrahi might stymie interests in Libya. A spokesman said: "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.

"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 Megrahi in August 2009 was taken by the Scottish Government. It's not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish Government."

Last night the US government said it had told BP to begin testing a new containment system that could allow the company at last to capture all of the oil escaping from its crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico. Testing of the new containment cap, which is likely to last up to 48 hours, had been delayed because of concerns that a sudden pressure build-up might further damage well casings and lead to even more catastrophic leaks.