Lockerbie bomber

I arrived in Edinburgh yesterday to the news that the
Scottish government was about to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted
of killing 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie in 1988, on
compassionate grounds. Mr. Megrahi is expected to die of cancer within three
months. I am staying here in Edinburgh with the former dean of the Law school
of the University of Edinburgh and his medical doctor wife. To my surprise my
law Professor friend had been involved in the Megrahi case. He provided me with
the most fascinating background and speculations on the case and these most
recent developments. They provide a very different picture than gained from the
headlines.

 

The explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie precipitated the
largest criminal investigation in British history. Impressive forensic investigations
traced clothing in the suitcase carrying the bomb to a shop in Malta. The
identification of Megrahi from pictures by the Maltese shop keeper many months
later as the person who bought the clothing—the primary evidence against him—has
been the subject to much debate. When the U.S. and Brittan issued indictments
against Mr. Megrahi he was home in Tripoli. Libya refused requests to extradite
Mr. Megrahi for trial in the U.S. or U.K. on the grounds that, as is the case
of all civil law countries, its constitution and practice did not permit it to
extradite its citizens for trail abroad. President Gaddafi offered to try
Megrahi in Libya. This offer was refused and the West imposed economic sanctions
on Libya for its “lack of cooperation.” My host became involved as a result of
the growing dissatisfaction of western commercial interests and of Middle
Eastern government’s with the economic sanctions and isolation of Libya. Every
one wanted to find a face saving way to allow Megrahi to be tried in a way all
sides could agree to. My host developed a plan that Gaddafi indicated he would
accept for a trail conducted in the Hague by the International War Crimes
Tribunal. As the crime had occurred over Scotland, Scottish courts had jurisdiction.
My hosts too easy and too cheap plan was rejected in favor of a $200 million
plan to build a court on an unused Scottish air base in the Netherlands and try
Megrahi there (technically on Scottish soil from the Scottish perspective)—I am
not making any of this up. Mr. Megrahi was convicted by a court of judges rather
than a jury of peers but his alleged accomplice was acquitted on the grounds of
insufficient evidence.

 

One of many problems with the conviction of one and the acquittal
of the other was that Libya had no motive for such a crime. The most plausible alternative
scenario involves Iran outsourcing the crime to Syrians in Damascus as revenge
for the American Air Force shooting down an Iranian commercial passenger plane
and killing all (several hundred) passengers under the mistaken belief that the
plane was military and heading toward an American ship—surely one of our bigger
embarrassments. The British families of those killed in the crash largely
believe that Mr. Megrahi is innocent and the American families largely believe
the opposite.  

 

My host pointed out that Mr. Megrahi’s second appeal was
underway. He is of the view that the appeal was likely to reveal very embarrassing
improprieties in the investigation and efforts of the authorities to obtain a
conviction. If Mr. Megrahi died in prison the appeal would have to go forward.
However, as part of Mr. Megrahi’s release the appeal was dropped. If the facts
would have been embarrassing, the American and British authorities will now be
spared that embarrassment forever. His release may have had nothing to do with
compassion. Today’s The Times (of
London) states on its front page: “Last week, al-Megrahi abandoned his appeal
against conviction amid allegations that a top-level cover-up had been agreed
to prevent the exposure of a grave miscarriage of justice.” 

 

I think it is time to go enjoy the Festival. The Lady Boys
of Thailand are performing in the park near by next to the tent of the Moscow
Circus.

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About wcoats

Dr. Warren L. Coats specializes in advising central banks on monetary policy, and in the development of their capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. He is retired from the International Monetary Fund, where, as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department, he led missions to over twenty countries. Before then, he served as Visiting Economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and to the World Bank, and was Assistant Prof of Economics at the Univ. of Virginia from 1970-75. Most recently he was Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq; an IMF consultant to the central banks of Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe; and a Deloitte/USAID advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review and until the end of 2013 was a member of the IMF program team for Afghanistan. His most recent book is entitled "One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
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