When Abdelbasetal-Megrahi is buried in Libya, he will be described as a victim of the Gaddafi regime. In the UK he remains the man responsible for the destruction of Pan Am flight 103. Yet the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing remains enmeshed indiplomatic games.
Dr Hans Köchler, who attended Megrahi's trial as a UN observer and has examined his appeal process in Scotland, told The Independent yesterday that he remained convinced that Megrahi "is not guilty as charged". The British Government would soon face renewed pressure to establish an independent inquiry when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) published its four-year investigation into Megrahi's initial trial and appeal, he said.
The report is believed to detail the grounds of a suspected miscarriage of justice. It questions the prosecution's ability to place Megrahi – a former Libyan intelligence official – in Mary's House, a shop in Malta, on 7 December 1988. Clothes from the shop were found in a suitcase with a Toshiba radio and an explosive device that detonated above Lockerbie. The suitcase was loaded at Malta airport before making its way to Frankfurt and then on to Pan Am 103 at Heathrow in London.
The shop owner, Tony Gauchi, identified Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes. New evidence in the report points to his receiving $2m from US authorities for his contribution in convicting the Libyan.
The report also casts doubt over the Swiss-made Mebo timer used in the bombing. The co-owner of the firm who made the timer, Edwin Bollier, has since claimed that he was offered $4m by US authorities to say fragments of a specific Mebo timer were found near the scene of the crash. Bollier turned down the offer.
In 1999, when Colonel Gaddafi ordered the delivery of Megrahi and a colleague, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, to the Netherlands for the Lockerbie trial, he urgently needed UN sanctions to be lifted. The case against the two men was almost identical. Fhimah was acquitted and sanctions lifted.
Megrahi's first appeal was unsuccessful. A second appeal could still have gone ahead, but the Libyan chose to walk away from the hearing that his lawyers believed would have cleared his name. Years of police investigation in Scotland, aided by intelligence officials from the US, would have been wiped out if Megrahi had walked free. And if it was not Libya, then who was responsible for the atrocity? Megrahi's counsel identified a connection to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group, led by the Syrian-based Ahmed Jibril. Alliances with Iran have also been floated.
It took until 2009 for Megrahi to believe he would soon be back in Libya. Although still a convicted murderer, the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, personally visited him in jail in Greenock after being told he was in the final stages of terminal prostate cancer.
MacAskill's options included the use of a London-agreed prisoner transfer agreement which would have meant Megrahi officially withdrawing his second appeal. MacAskill instead released him on "compassionate grounds", and although the appeal could still have gone ahead, the Libyan chose to walk away from the appeal.
The Scottish Justice Secretary, Dr Köchler said, had yet to explain why the announcement of Megrahi's "compassionate release" went ahead without mentioning the doubts raised in the SCCRC report. "It is in the interests of justice that these questions are addressed," he said.