US lawyer to defend Libya on Lockerbie

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EVER since Bill Clinton promised during the presidential campaign to punish Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for involvement in the bombing of Pan Am 103 with the loss of 259 lives over Lockerbie in 1988, the Libyan government has been looking for the right man to represent its interests in Washington. Several lawyers turned down a retainer of dollars 500,000 ( pounds 340,000) for the job.

Now the Libyan government has hired Abe Sofaer, who as the State Department's senior lawyer under Ronald Reagan and George Bush is peculiarly well qualified for the job. In 1986 he produced the legal justification for the United States air raid against the capital Tripoli, and helped draw up the plan for the US economic embargo against Libya.

In order to work for the Libyans, Mr Sofaer has to apply for a special licence from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, to exempt him from the embargo which he himself devised.

'This is strictly for legal services, for arranging a consensual resolution of the Pan Am 103 case, in regard to the case brought by the government or civil suits by families,' he says.

Mr Sofaer denied to Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post, who found out about his new job, that he was being hired for his inside knowledge, and refused to discuss how much he was being paid.

But other lawyers turned down dollars 500,000 to represent Libya over Pan Am 103 after meeting Yussef Dibri, head of Libya's security service, who is in charge of improving Libya's relations with the US. In 1991 a US grand jury indicted two Libyans for responsibility for planting the bomb on the plane, but Libya has refused to hand them over despite United Nations sanctions.

Rebutting criticism of his decision to work for the Libyans, Mr Sofaer says: 'I will not compromise my values and beliefs. It is significant that Libya has retained someone who has always been against terrorism, and is still strongly against terrorism, and who continues to support Israel strongly.'