Secret Agreement Increases Odds That Convicted Pan Am 103 Bomber May Be Freed

Lawyers for Abdel Basit Ali Megrahi, convicted of downing Pan American Airways Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988, lodged their appeal on Oct. 3, according to the Scottish Glasgow Herald. The appeal follows a June 28 decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) that there may have been a miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi.

According to the Herald, “sources close to the case” allege that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offered $2 million to Tony Gauci, a Valetta, Malta shopkeeper who supposedly sold Megrahi some clothes that were found at the Lockerbie crash site. It has not been confirmed that Tony Gauci and his brother Paul accepted any money. Paul was not called as a witness at Megrahi’s Camp Zeist, Netherlands trial, but the offer is directly relevant to the credibility of Tony Gauci. Megrahi’s defense team was never told of the CIA offer.

The Herald also revealed that, in the course of its three-year investigation, the SCCRC found a “top secret document” concerning the timing device which allegedly detonated the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103. Citing national security reasons, the Crown (prosecution) is still refusing to hand the document over to the defense. An agreement by the Crown with the U.S. government not to disclose certain material has been seen by the Herald. Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the Pan Am crash, is quoted by the Herald as saying, “It is shocking to me that…after 19 years of trying to get to the truth about who murdered my daughter, national security is being used as an excuse.”

Megrahi’s defense team was never told of the CIA offer.

Dr. Swire, an explosives expert in the British army who resigned to study medicine, has always been convinced that the bomb which destroyed Pan Am 103 was originally loaded aboard at London’s Heathrow Airport. He thus disagreed with the premise of the prosecution’s case at the Camp Zeist trial: that the bomb was loaded in Valetta aboard an Air Malta flight bound for Frankfurt, where it was then loaded onto a connector flight to London, and there offloaded onto Pan Am 103.

The very complexity of carrying a bomb from Malta to blow up a Pan American Airways flight over Scotland required an awkwardly complicated skein of evidence to prove the prosecution’s case. The prosecution had to prove that someone in Valetta sneaked a bomb aboard an Air Malta plane, that that person bought clothes at a certain shop in Valetta on a particular day, and that fabric from those clothes was found at the Pan Am crash site at Lockerbie. In addition, the prosecution had to prove that the same person who sneaked the bomb aboard the Air Malta flight had acquired the timer (the circuit board) which allegedly detonated the bomb. That someone, that person, was Megrahi, according to the trial verdict at Camp Zeist.

Now it appears that the two proofs required of the prosecution have fallen apart. The key witness who identified Megrahi as that “someone,” Tony Gauci, the Valetta shopkeeper, has lost his credibility because of the up to $2 million bribe offered him by the CIA. And the timer which supposedly detonated the bomb aboard Pan Am 103 has been placed by the U.S. government under “not to disclose” orders with the Crown.

The High Cost of Secrecy

Dr. Robert Black, former professor of criminal law at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and originator of the idea of trying the Lockerbie defendants under Scottish law in the Netherlands, told this writer on July 5 that Megrahi probably would be freed next year. The prosecution’s agreement not to disclose the document regarding the timer could seriously hamper its case against the appeal.

Assuming that what appear to be the present facts are true and Megrahi is indeed freed means that Libya, which agreed to pay $10 million to each of the families of the Pan Am crash victims, is not guilty. That opens the possibility of a serious look for the real culprit who so criminally snuffed out 270 lives. Somebody is guilty of a heinous crime. But who?