Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) disclosed new details at a Senate hearing Wednesday about the release of the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and questioned whether oil giant BP plc, who allegedly played a role in securing the prisoner’s release, would face consequences for that involvement in the U.S.
Abdelbasset Al-Megrahi was transferred by Scottish authorities to his home in Libya 13 months ago, after doctors said he had only three months to live.
Lawmakers from New York and New Jersey, home to many of the bombings victims, have been investigating whether BP, interested in accessing Libya’s oil, helped negotiate Al-Megrahi’s release.
The British government and BP officials have previously said they discussed a prisoner exchange agreement between the United Kingdom and Libya, but BP has said it was not involved in Al-Megrahi’s release.
No officials from either the United Kingdom or from BP appeared at today’s hearing, chaired by Menendez in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In July, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for a federal criminal investigation into whether BP’s push for the prisoner exchange agreement violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials. Today’s hearing did not address those allegations.
Menendez said BP’s lack of participation in the hearing could impact its ability to receive permits necessary for it to operate in the United States and said he would convene a separate hearing to address the issue. “I frankly don’t know how BP expects to continue to do business in America if this is the way they do business,” Menendez said.
Officials from the State and Justice Departments, meanwhile, said the departments had received political commitments from the U.K. government that, if convicted, Al-Megrahi would serve out his sentence in Scotland.
“It is the view of this Administration that the decision by Scottish authorities to release Megrahi and permit his return to Libya was profoundly wrong,” said Nancy McEldowney, who is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European Affairs bureau at the State Department.
The Justice Department’s Bruce Swartz said Attorney General Eric Holder called his Scottish counterpart in April 2009 to urge Scotland to keep the Libyan man in the country.
In her testimony, McEldowney called on the Scottish government to release the medical records that lead to the terminal assessment.
Menendez said his staff had asked for the full medical record from Al-Megrahi lawyers, but they declined to do so, both now and upon his death.
In a room packed with the families of the bombing’s victims, medical experts testified that a patient with Al-Megrahi’s prognosis would have been bedridden, even though a video of Al-Megrahi upon his release showed him walking down stairs to a hero’s welcome in Libya.
The Senate investigation had produced new information about Al-Megrahi’s medical condition, Menendez said. A Scottish government official confirmed that Al-Megrahi was given the three month prognosis by a general practitioner when no cancer specialists would affirm the diagnosis, Menendez said.
The Scottish official, George Burgess, also provided information that contradicted previous reports about whether Megrahi had begun a chemotherapy treatment while in Scotland, according to Menendez.
“Why was the information not forthcoming?” Menendez said.