The only Lockerbie bombing convict is one step closer to his guilty verdict being overturned, however, posthumously. Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi died at home in Tripoli on 21 May, 2012, while protesting his innocence until his last breath. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) allowed the family to proceed with an appeal to clear his name. The case was sent to the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest criminal court, and a date for the final hearing has been scheduled to start on 24 November.
His 27-year-old son Ali, who is leading the family’s long and arduous fight to clear his father’s name, is certain that justice will prevail this time and that his late father’s verdict will be reversed. During a telephone conversation in Tripoli last Monday, he assured me: “My father’s name will certainly be cleared this time.”
The family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar, a distinguished Scottish lawyer who volunteered to take the case, in a series of emails confidently communicated to me: “We have a robust appeal.”
Winning this time seems certain. Professor Robert Black, a Scottish law authority, and the mind behind the first Lockerbie court setup in the Netherlands in May 2000, agrees with this analysis. He believes the Scottish court will “overturn the verdict” against Al-Megrahi, however, on the “narrower ground” of the crown prosecutor “withholding materials” from the defence team that could have helped establish Al-Megrahi’s innocence from the outset. Professor Black is “disappointed” that the court might not go as far as “to find that no reasonable court would have convicted Al-Megrahi.” He added, “I hope I’m wrong about this” – which would restore some of the Scottish judiciary’s reputation tarnished by the Lockerbie case and its aftermath.
The Lockerbie bombing, since 1988, became negatively synonymous with Libya, Gaddafi and its entire population. Gaddafi, firmly believing in their innocence, refused to hand over his accused citizens, Lamin Fhimah and Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, to stand trial in the UK. This led the United Nations (UN) to adopt a series of sanction resolutions, including Resolution 731, passed on 21 March, 1992, with harsh economic and political punitive measures that not only isolated Libya, but made life extremely difficult for its entire population.
The long-held belief that the late Gaddafi was behind the attack still echoes within Western mainstream media, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary emerging over the years.
Now, it can be disclosed that Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), the only UN-recognised authority in the country, wants the mud to keep sticking to Gaddafi, Libya and its people too. The GNA is not enthusiastic about this latest development. The GNA have, illegally, cut the funding for the case over the last three years.
Al-Megrahi’s son Ali and the family lawyer are puzzled as to why the GNA cut funding at this critical junction of the case – when winning seems all but certain.
Lawyer Anwar does not disqualify the assumption that the GNA came under pressure from both the UK and the US to steer away from the case. The British and American narrative of the Lockerbie tragedy has always been that Libya is responsible and “that narrative must be maintained”, Anwar informs me.
However, suspension of defanging goes much deeper within the GNA, where corruption is rampant. A Scottish consultant to the legal team, speaking on condition of anonymity, yesterday clarified: “I believe funding is still budgeted, but the money disappears before getting to its intended final destination.”
Despite writing several times to the GNA to resume funding to meet the substantial mounting legal fees, Anwar received no replies until a few months ago, when his consultant was told that the GNA did not receive any messages relating to the funding of the case.
However, the consultant strongly disputes this, asserting that she “personally” handed over the file to the “highest official in the GNA” in a December 2017 meeting in Tripoli. When asked if “the highest official” meant Fayez Al-Sarraj, the GNA’s prime minister, she replied: “You think about it.”
It is not wholly unusual for the GNA to take such a position. Part of the political legitimacy in new Libya rests on the claim that Gaddafi was a supporter of international terror, and the Lockerbie bombing must have been his evil work too.
In November of 2019, the GNA’s Minister of Justice Mohamed Lamlum, personally stood before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ask Saif Al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son, to face trial before the ICC, tarnishing the very judiciary he is supposed to protect and defend. Gaddafi Junior is wanted by the ICC for his – broadly disputed – role in quelling the 2011 troubles that ended his father’s rule over Libya.
According to different legal experts, the Libyan state is obliged to help its citizens abroad by all means necessary, including through funding in the event of legal issues. The Lockerbie case is much more than a petty case about a Libyan citizen, but it concerns the entire nation, its history and its reputation. This should elevate the case to a “national cause” for all Libyans, according to Anwar.
Indeed, Libyans across the political spectrum now consider the Lockerbie case a national issue and that Libya must continue funding the legal team, just as it did before 2011.
During the Gaddafi era, the government even established a consulate in Glasgow to closely monitor the case, and to help Al-Megrahi’s family who had to relocate to Scotland to be near their father while in jail.
It is not clear if the GNA will honour its legal obligations towards its own citizen, Al-Megrahi, albeit posthumously, but the legal team is not surrendering. They have already established a liaising team inside Libya to follow up with the chaotic authorities in Tripoli.
A group of volunteers inside and outside Libya are gearing up to explore other funding avenues if the GNA continues to reject meeting its legal obligations. In any eventuality, Al-Megrahi’s reputation, and that of Libya, will soon be restored.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.