Salmond, Megrahi a ND the Oil-Rich Arabs; First Minister Is Accused of 'Nudge and Wink Diplomacy' during Trade Talks Linked to Lockerbie Bomber

Daily Mail (London), September 4, 2009 | Go to article overview

Salmond, Megrahi a ND the Oil-Rich Arabs; First Minister Is Accused of 'Nudge and Wink Diplomacy' during Trade Talks Linked to Lockerbie Bomber


Byline: Andrew Picken Scottish Political Reporter

THE Lockerbie bomber was freed on compassionate grounds months after Alex Salmond courted an oil-rich state pressing for the Libyan's release.

The First Minister was personally linked to the 'trade for terrorists' row yesterday after it was revealed he discussed the fate of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi during investment talks at Holyrood with a senior minister from Qatar.

The SNP last year targeted the Arab state in a bid to persuade its rulers into stumping up billions of pounds to pay for flagship polices such as a new Forth crossing.

But now it has emerged the Nationalists have also engaged in a series of letters and meetings about the release of Megrahi with the Qataris, with one letter promising to 'take into account the points raised'.

Documents released yesterday show the billionaire ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, ordered one of his ministers to Scotland in June for crunch talks with Mr Salmond to discuss Megrahi.

Dr Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, minister for International Cooperation, told the First Minster that Qatar and the rest of the Arab world were concerned about Megrahi's health and wanted to find the 'best solution' for the former Libyan spy. Five weeks after this meeting, the Qatari government wrote to the Scottish Executive supporting the 57-year-old's compassionate release - and one week after that Megrahi formally applied for release on compassionate grounds.

Minutes of the talks also showed Mr Salmond 'would be happy' to take up an invitation to visit Qatar.

The First Minister last night strongly refuted any suggestion of wrongdoing, insisting Megrahi's release was a judicial and not a political matter.

But opposition parties have urged Mr Salmond to 'come clean' about his dealings with Qatar after fears were raised the Scottish justice system may have been undermined by the association with one of Libya's allies while Megrahi's fate hung in the balance.

Tory leader Annabel Goldie last night demanded to know if the Scottish Executive had 'failed to act in an upfront and proper way' and accused Mr Salmond of being 'involved in dubious deals and nudge-and-wink diplomacy'.

She added: 'I'm afraid there are suspicions this does not look good.

'I asked the First Minister whether, in all his government's dealings with Arab states, seeking money for his Scottish Futures Trust, the issue of Mr Megrahi's release came into play or was raised in any form. He completely failed to answer this question.

'Alex Salmond needs to say if he is still going to Qatar later this year to ask for money. He must also publish all correspondence, notes and minutes of meetings and the details of all proposed meetings between the Scottish government and Arab states.

'Anything less and suspicions will remain.' Shortly after Mr Salmond signalled last autumn he wanted to court foreign investment from oil-rich countries such as Qatar, the Libyan government started talks with the Scottish Executive on a 'way out' for Megrahi. …

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Salmond, Megrahi a ND the Oil-Rich Arabs; First Minister Is Accused of 'Nudge and Wink Diplomacy' during Trade Talks Linked to Lockerbie Bomber
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