Claims made by US senators yesterday that BP lobbied for the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, as part of an oil-for-terrorist deal are not out of the blue.
Last September, the then justice minister, Jack Straw, admitted Britain had been partly motivated by the need to secure fresh oil contracts when ministers tried, in 2007, to make it easier to release Megrahi.
Straw accepted in an interview that he had decided in 2007 to drop his plan to exclude the bomber from a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) which was being negotiated with Libya. Straw's change of mind followed lobbying by UK oil interests, notably BP, and the Libyan government.
Straw was lobbied on 15 October and 9 November 2007 by Sir Mark Allen, a former MI6 officer, who then worked for BP as a consultant. Libya was stalling on a £500m-plus oil deal with BP.
Documents last year showed Straw originally promised a PTA would only be reached with Libya if Megrahi was excluded. But he later acceded to Libyan demands to include Megrahi. The change followed a warning from BP that not including the bomber could hurt its business interests.
When asked in a Daily Telegraph interview last year if trade and BP were factors, Straw said: "Yes, [it was] a very big part of that. I'm unapologetic about that ... Libya was a rogue state.
"We wanted to bring it back into the fold. And yes, that included trade … and subsequently there was the BP deal," Straw said.
A spokesman for BP said the company had raised concerns with the government about the slow progress in concluding the PTA, but denied mentioning Megrahi.
Megrahi was released by the Scottish government last year on compassionate ground, because a terminal illness meant he only had a short time to live. But since his return to Libya, he has remained alive.