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Influential group whose ruling council includes Shell and BP pressed for release of Lockerbie bomber

The Times
September 2, 2009

Business chief Lord Trefgarne urged MacAskill to release al-Megrahi

David Brown and David Robertson

An influential group representing British business interests in Libya pressed for the urgent release of the Lockerbie bomber, citing the “grave concern” to its members’ interests should he die in prison.

Lord Trefgarne, a senior Conservative peer and chairman of the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC), wrote to the Scottish Justice Secretary outlining the risk just a month before he approved the release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi on August 20.

The newly disclosed letter raises fresh questions over the role of British businesses in putting pressure on the Scottish government to free the convicted terrorist.

Lord Trefgarne wrote to Kenny MacAskill: “The Libyan authorities have made it clear that should [al-Megrahi] die in prison in Scotland, there will be serious implications for UK-Libyan relations. The prospect is of grave concern to LBBC members.”

The LBBC’s ruling council includes the oil and gas companies BP, Shell and BG International, which are hoping to exploit Libya’s natural reserves. Lord Trefgarne’s son, George, was until recently BP’s director of media and research and still does consultancy work for the company.

Many of the oil and gas companies have substantial interests in Scotland’s North Sea fields. Menzies Aviation, a subsidiary of one of Scotland’s largest companies, John Menzies, is also a member of the LBBC.

Its banking members include Barclays, HSBC and the British asset management and corporate banking divisions of the American firm JP Morgan Chase, which pays Tony Blair £2 million a year as an adviser.

A delegation of senior Establishment figures arrived in Tripoli to pave the return for British businesses just a fortnight after Mr Blair visited Colonel Gaddafi in March 2004.

Shell is upgrading a liquid natural gas plant on the Libyan coast in a deal agreed during that visit.
BP signed a contract during Mr Blair’s second visit in 2007 that will result in it investing an initial $900 million (£557 million) to explore for oil in Libya.

Lord Trefgarne, a former minister for trade and for defence procurement in Margaret Thatcher’s Government, suggested to Mr MacAskill on July 17 that if al-Megrahi was not suitable for a return to Libya under a prisoner transfer agreementhe should consider a release on compassionate grounds.

He wrote: “Speed is of the essence principally, of course, for humanitarian reasons, but also because of the shadow which may otherwise fall over UK-Libyan relations — and especially the interests of LBBC Scottish members and indeed others.”

Mr MacAskill replied on August 5, saying: “I have made it quite clear that my decision will be one based on judicial grounds alone and that economic and political considerations have no place in the process.”

Lord Trefgarne said after the release of al-Megrahi that British business links had developed more slowly than the council had hoped. “Perhaps now, with what I would assume to be the final resolution of the Lockerbie affair as far as the Libyans are concerned, they will move forward more swiftly.”

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