July 22, 2010 -- Top Scottish officials have declined an invitation to appear before a Senate panel investigating allegations of fraud and corporate pressure that may have led to the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdulbaset al Megrahi, ABC News has learned.
In a letter sent yesterday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., formally invited Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to appear before a July 29 hearing on the topic, chaired by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.
In response to Kerry's letter, Salmond denied the allegations levied by a group of U.S. senators and said his letters explaining his government's position would suffice.
"I believe that I have offered all assistance that could reasonably be expected of an overseas government and respectfully decline your invitation for Scottish ministers to appear at the hearing," Salmond wrote in a letter dated today.
Last August, Justice Minister MacAskill decided to release Megrahi and allow his return to Libya on compassionate grounds after it was believed he was suffering from cancer and had only months left to live. Justice decisions such as these are under the authority of the Scottish government. Nearly a year later Megrahi is still alive.
Sens. Menendez, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Kirsten Gillibrand D-N.Y., and Frank Lautenberg D-N.J. sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Monday questioning the quality and sourcing of the medical prognosis. A day later the senators sent another to Clinton urging her to investigate whether British oil giant BP pushed for al Megrahi's release in order to help secure a lucrative exploration and drilling deal in Libya.
In a separate letter to Kerry yesterday, Salmond denied any untoward medical advice led to Megrahi's release.
"There is no evidence that any of the doctors were placed under any outside influence whatsoever and what they provided was an objective view of AI-Megrahi's condition at that time," Salmond wrote, saying the medical advice came solely from Dr. Andrew Fraser, the Director of Health and Care in the Scottish Prison Service.
"The medical evidence which informed the decision to release AI-Megrahi took no account of any assessments paid for by the Libyan government," Salmond added.
Salmond also denied BP leaned on his government to release al Megrahi.
"I can say unequivocally that the Scottish Government has never, at any point, received any representations from BP in relation to Al-Megrahi," he wrote.
The allegations came at a diplomatically sensitive time and sparked a flurry of letters on the matter from British, American, and BP officials just a week before President Obama was scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Washington.
Both BP and the British government have insisted the company played no role in Megrahi's release, though BP has admitted it lobbied for the passage of a separate Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya that did not include al Megrahi. BP admits it suggested that further holdup of the PTA could harm British business interests in Libya, including its oil deal.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward and the company's advisor Mark Allen have also been asked to appear before the committee, according to officials who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because no announcement had yet been made.
Libyan-born al Megrahi was convicted of masterminding the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people, most of them American. He was sentenced to life in prison but was released and allowed to return to Libya last year on compassionate grounds after it was determined he had only three months left to live. Al Megrahi beat the prognosis and lives on, now free in Libya.
In an interview with ABC News's Diane Sawyer and at a press conference alongside President Obama Tuesday, Prime Minister Cameron insisted repeatedly that the decision to release al Megrahi was solely that of the Scottish government and he has not seen anything to indicate that they were swayed by any lobbying efforts by BP. He also said he did not think there was a need for a U.K.-based inquiry into the matter.
"I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said. "It was a bad decision."
The British Prime Minister did say that while there was "absolutely not harm to be done" by providing a full explanation into the circumstances, he did not think there was "any great mystery here."
"There was a decision taken by the Scottish executive -- in my view, a wholly wrong and misguided decision, a bad decision, but their decision, nonetheless," he said. "That's what happened, and I don't think we need an extra inquiry to tell us that that's what happened."
Obama said he agreed that the release of al Megrahi was a "bad decision," but he said he fully supports efforts to learn more.
American senators from New York and New Jersey demanded a meeting with Cameron, and have scheduled public hearings on the al-Megrahi matter for next week. Cameron had initially declined to meet with the senators, but said he changed his mind Tuesday because he recognized "the strength of feelings" about the Lockerbie bomber, a Downing Street spokesman told ABC News.
"Our discussion with the prime minister was frank and serious," Schumer said after the meeting. "We urged the British government to pursue a complete and independent investigation, not simply a document review. The prime minister listened to our request and said that a full investigation was not off the table."