Did the UK trade Lockerbie bomber for oil contracts?

The outrage over the release of the  bomber and mass murderer responsible for killing 270 innocent people grew overnight as a key Libyan political figure claimed that the release came as part of a commercial deal.  Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi, met Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi at the airport and proclaimed him a hero in a display that embarrassed the UK when video of it hit British televisions.  Gaddafi’s son then told interviewers that British commercial interests had required Megrahi’s release:

The release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was linked to trade deals with Britain, Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, said in a interview. …

“In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, (Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table,” said Islam, interviewed late Thursday as he accompanied Megrahi on the flight back from Scotland to Libya.

“All British interests were linked to the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi,” Islam said in an interview broadcast by Libyan TV channel Al Mutawassit on Friday.

The Brown government in London quickly denied any commercial deal for Megrahi:

The claims were vehemently denied by the UK government.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “There is no deal. All decisions relating to Megrahi’s case have been exclusively for Scottish ministers, the Crown Office in Scotland and the Scottish judicial authorities.

“No deal has been made between the UK government and Libya in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interests in the country.”

This has turned into a massive embarrassment for Brown and his advisers.  They have been reduced to admitting that they urgently requested Libya not to stage a hero’s welcome for Megrahi in order to keep from angering British voters.  That effort failed miserably, as even before al-Islam’s remarks hit the televisions, Brits had reacted with shock and anger to Megrahi’s release.

And what will the British do now?  They say they’re reconsidering plans to have Prince Andrew attend Moammar Gaddafi’s 40th anniversary of his dictatorship.  Andrew, not coincidentally, represents British trade interests in Libya, including oil and gas contracts.  Hmmmm.

The abject nature of Britain’s response to the celebrations, as well as al-Islam’s revelations, won’t ease that anger one bit.  The British have utterly fumbled this situation from top to bottom.

Update: My friend Scott Johnson at Power Line hears from one of their regular correspondents, whose personal experience indicates that this decision was driven by commercial interests and Gordon Brown.  However, the British may not have been the only ones to fumble this:

I’ve been quite perplexed at the characterization of this as a Scottish decision, as my friend spoke of it in terms of something that had already been cleared conditionally by the courts and had been signed off on by the Prime Minister. In fact, he pointed me toward this February 2009 AFP article, mentioning that it was a trial balloon from the British government to test the reaction in the US and UK.

Note the date. They had not detected much anger of the article, so they British government had already decided that they would acquiesce to the Libyan request. He was also very explicit that they had informed the US of their plans to release him.

Sounds like either the White House, the State Department, or both were asleep at the switch.  Either that, or Hillary Clinton was too busy making a reset button to care.

Update II: It doesn’t get any better for Britain, as Gaddafi himself hints that commercial interests drove Megrahi’s release:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi hugged the convicted Lockerbie bomber and promised more cooperation with Britain in gratitude for his release, while London and Washington condemned his “hero’s welcome” home.

Meeting Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and his family late on Friday, Gaddafi thanked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth for “encouraging” Scotland to release the dying prisoner from a Scottish jail, Libyan news agency JANA reported. …

“This step is in the interest of relations between the two countries … and of the personal friendship between me and them and will be positively reflected for sure in all areas of cooperation between the two countries,” the Libyan leader said.

Gaddafi’s comments drew a flat denial from Britain that Megrahi’s release was in any way linked to business deals with Libya, which has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves. Britain said all responsibility for his release rested with Scotland, which runs its own judicial affairs.