Libyan Convicted in Lockerbie Trial May Be Innocent — Jun 28th 2007
A former Libyan intelligence agent sentenced to life for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 may have been wrongly convicted, concluded a Scottish panel today. In its 800-page report, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) stated that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi may have "suffered a miscarriage of justice" during his 2001 trial, reports the Associated Press
. The panel recommended that al-Megrahi be granted a new appeal.
''The commission is of the view, based upon our lengthy investigations, new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court, that the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice,'' wrote the SCCRC.
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was the only person convicted in the bombing, the worst terrorist attack in British aviation history. Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 people, including 11 on the ground. There were 179 Americans on the plane, including 35 Syracuse University students.
Specifically, SCCRC's report raised questions about the testimony of Tony Gauci, a store owner in Malta, notes the AP. During the trial, Gauci testified that a man resembling al-Megrahi purchased clothing at his store--apparel that was later linked to the bomb on the plane. But defense lawyers said that Gauci had earlier seen a photo of al-Megrahi in a magazine article about the bombing, reports today's Guardian
Al-Megrahi, pictured above, who has long insisted that he is innocent, lost an appeal case in 2002. But questions persist among families of the victims. Some have questioned whether the Pan Am bombing was retaliation for the US Navy's accidental shooting of an Iranian Airbus passenger jet in the Gulf in 1998, a tragedy that killed 290 people.
In 2002, Eddie MacKechnie, al-Megrahi's attorney, stated a suspicious payout had been made by the Iran government, citing a CIA agent as the source. "An $11m payment was made by the government of Iran to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command two days after the atrocity," MacKechnie told the London Independent
, adding that evidence was never mentioned during his client's trial.
Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103 and who speaks on behalf of victims' families, told Reuters
that "Iran had the most potent motive of anybody for destroying an American airliner."
In 2003, the Libyan government agreed to pay $270 million in compensation to families of the Lockerbie victims. According to the Scotsman,
each family received $8 million. Libya may seek to recoup that money from the Scottish Executive branch, the country's legal arm. A source quoted in the Scotsman
said: "They are considering very seriously claiming that money if Megrahi is freed, but they have not yet decided. The question is who they will claim it from. It will not be from the families."
Another group likely watching these events: former employees of Pan Am. Executives at the airline, which was already suffering financially before the bombing, blamed its ultimate demise partly on a drop in international air traffic following the Lockerbie tragedy. The airline eventually wrangled a $30 million legal settlement with Libya
after the families were compensated. Much of that settlement was used to pay employees last summer, many of whom were still owed money when Pan Am filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 1991.
More links on the web: The Scotsman's archive The Guardian's archive Syracuse University page