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Gaddafi deal 'will cover Lockerbie bomber'

London Telegraph | June 9, 2007
Auslan Cramb

Downing Street's claim that a prisoner exchange agreement with Libya did not cover the Lockerbie bomber was dimissed as "ludicrous" yesterday by the Scottish Executive.

Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, poured scorn on Westminster's insistence that the "memorandum of understanding" signed by Tony Blair and Col Gaddafi in Libya did not apply to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.

The issue is at the centre of the first major constitutional row between Holyrood and Westminster since the Scottish National Party won the Scottish elections last month.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has protested to the Prime Minister over the agreement, which he claims could lead to Megrahi being transferred from Scotland to his homeland.

The Libyan secret service agent was found guilty in 2001 of murdering 270 people in 1988 by smuggling a suitcase containing a bomb on to PanAm Flight 103.

All 259 passengers and crew died, and 11 Lockerbie residents were killed as wreckage rained on the town.

Megrahi, who says he is innocent, is serving a minimum of 27 years in Greenock prison and Scottish ministers have always insisted that he must complete his sentence in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill said that Mr Blair's handling of the affair, without the knowledge of the Scottish administration, was "at minimum, discourteous to the First Minister and the Scottish Parliament".

He added: "There's no mention of Megrahi (in the memorandum) but while we have many people in our prisons. . . we have only one Libyan national in our prisons.

"So when we're talking about the transfer of Libyan prisoners they are not secreted in Barlinnie, Saughton, Perth or anywhere else.

"We have only one Libyan national in custody and when we talk about the transfer of prisoners, frankly it is ludicrous to suggest that we are talking in a context other than this major atrocity that was perpetrated on Scottish soil and which was dealt with by a Scottish court and with a sentence provided by Scottish judges."

Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Tories, said the affair demonstrated that the machinery governing the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster must be reviewed.

However, Downing Street continued to claim that the agreement, signed last week during Mr Blair's trip to Libya, did not include Megrahi.

A spokesman said: "It is absolutely incorrect to say a deal has been done. All that the memorandum of understanding says is that we will have further talks about these matters - civil and commercial law, extradition arrangements, prisoner transfer. It concludes absolutely no specific deals.

"We don't regard it as covering Megrahi, and we made this very clear during the talks in Libya.

"Even if we did reach some future hypothetical point where a prisoner would be transferred, that would rightly be a devolved matter to be considered by relevant Scottish authorities."

 

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