Blair met Gaddafi before release of Lockerbie bomber

Tripoli had threatened to cut business ties with Britain if ex-spy Megrahi wasn’t released
Blair met Gaddafi before release of Lockerbie bomber
Tony Blair
By Reuters
Sun 18 Sep 2011 09:56 PM

Tony
Blair's spokesman confirmed on Sunday that the former British prime minister
had visited Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in the months before the Lockerbie bomber
was freed from jail, but insisted there was no impropriety in the contacts.

The
Sunday Telegraph said it had found letters and emails which showed Blair, who
left office in 2007, had visited Gaddafi in June 2008 and April 2009, once
using the then Libyan leader's jets and bringing along an American billionaire.

The
paper said Blair, prime minister for 10 years until 2007, had made no mention
of the trips on his websites.

Blair's
visits came ahead of the release from Scottish prison of Abdel Basset
al-Megrahi, a Libyan who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US-bound
airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

At
the time of Blair's visits, Tripoli was threatening to cut business links with
Britain if Megrahi, a former Libyan agent, was not released, the Telegraph
added.

Blair's
spokesman said the trips were not a secret, and there had been nothing untoward
about them.

"The
subjects of the conversations during Mr Blair's occasional visits was primarily
Africa, as Libya was for a time head of the African Union; but also the Middle
East and how Libya should reform and open up," his spokesman said.

"Of
course the Libyans, as they always did, raised Megrahi. Mr Blair explained, as
he always did, in office and out of it, that it was not a decision for the UK
government but for the Scottish Executive."

Megrahi
was freed by Scottish authorities, which operate a criminal justice system
independent of London, on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after doctors
said he had terminal cancer and had just three months to live.

The
move angered the US government and relatives of the 189 Americans killed in the
bombing. Megrahi is still alive more than two years later. Blair's successor,
Gordon Brown, has always said London was not involved in the Scottish decision.

"These
new meetings between Mr Blair and Gaddafi are disturbing, and details of what
was discussed should now be made public," Pam Dix, whose brother was one
of those killed, told the Telegraph. "I am astonished Tony Blair continued
to have meetings like this out of office."

Some
US politicians have accused Britain of allowing trade interests to take
precedence over justice in the release of Megrahi. The Scottish authorities
have repeatedly denied this.

The
correspondence found by the Telegraph said Blair had been accompanied on one
trip by Tim Collins, a US billionaire financier and friend of the former prime
minister.

Blair's
spokesman confirmed this but said no business deals had ever been discussed.

"Tony
Blair has never had any role, either formal or informal, paid or unpaid, with
the Libyan Investment Authority or the Government of Libya and he has no
commercial relationship with any Libyan company or entity," he said.

While
in office, Blair oversaw a renewal of British ties with Libya, arguing that
Gaddafi's foreign policy had changed after decades of sponsoring terrorism and
opposing the West.

Since
the uprising against Gaddafi began this year, British newspapers have
frequently reprinted old photographs of the two men shaking hands and embracing
during a visit to Libya by Blair as prime minister.

Blair
has repeatedly defended his role in rehabilitating Gaddafi, who promised after
the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States to abandon banned
weapons programmes and help the West track down militants.

"I
always say to people it is absolutely simple. The external policy of Libya had
changed," Blair said in an interview this month. "The trouble was, in
the end they weren't prepared to reform internally."

Blair
says he spoke to Gaddafi this year early in the Libyan uprising, and urged him
to step down.

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