has offered to spare the lives of five nurses and a doctor on death row if Britain
hands over the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.
has told British and American diplomats that it will free the medical staff
and Palestine if
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed
al-Megrahi is allowed to serve the remainder of
his life sentence in Libya.
The offer was made during secret talks to free the five
nurses and a doctor accused of deliberately infecting almost 400 children
with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi,
in northeast Libya,
in the late 1990s.
Lawyers acting for the prisoners, who face execution by
firing squad, claim they were framed.
They also alleged that they have been repeatedly raped
and tortured during their seven years in jail.
Further talks with the Libyan authorities are scheduled
to take place later this month.
The disclosure follows mounting speculation that there
are plans to repatriate Megrahi to Tripoli to
serve the rest of his 27-year sentence.
The former Libyan intelligence officer is serving his
sentence in Greenock
prison after being convicted of the 1988 atrocity in which 270 people were
His conviction is being reviewed by the Scottish Criminal
Cases Review Commission, which is being lobbied by MSPs
and victims’ relatives to reopen the case amid concerns Megrahi
Last month, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie,
the former lord advocate who issued the arrest warrant for Megrahi, told The Sunday Times that he had doubts about
the reliability of the main witness in the trial.
The former Conservative minister described Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper whose testimony was
central in securing the conviction in 2001 as “not quite the full shilling”
and “an apple short of a picnic”.
He added that Megrahi should be
allowed to leave Scotland to
serve the remainder of his sentence in Libya.
Last week, a source close to the talks said the Bulgarian
government had approached Britain in the hope its experience in dealing
with Libya over the Lockerbie affair might secure the release of the six
does not stand to benefit directly, ministers believe its international
reputation would be enhanced by securing the prisoners’ release.
“The Bulgarians have been desperate for a number of years
to get them out of jail,” said the source. “The European Union was
half-negotiating, but they have been unable to do it so (the Bulgarians)
came to Britain and
because they feel we know how to deal with the Libyans.
“We reluctantly agreed to meet with the Libyans to see if
we can do something, but the problem is (they) said ‘We’ll do a trade with Megrahi’.”
The Bulgarian nurses travelled
during the 1990s in an attempt to find work. After an outbreak of Aids in Benghazi
hospital, 23 foreign medical personnel, mostly Bulgarian, were arrested.
Though most were released, the remainder
were accused of deliberately infecting children at the hospital.
The international community and medical authorities
widely agree the Benghazi
infections were caused by poor hygiene and that the doctor and nurses are
Last night Jim Swire, spokesman
for the families of the Lockerbie victims, who lost his daughter Flora in
the atrocity, said he was not surprised to hear that Libya
had offered to swap prisoners.
“I suspected there was a link between the Bulgarian
nurses and Megrahi but if he was exchanged I
think it would be the right outcome for all the wrong reasons,” he said.
“I would be delighted to see Megrahi
and the nurses released but while the exchange would remedy two cruel human
problems, I want Megrahi’s verdict overturned for
true and honest reasons which are aired in the public domain.
“Any transfer of Megrahi at
this point would jeopardise that.”
Eddie McKechnie, Megrahi’s former solicitor, said he believed the Libyan
might be repatriated.
“What I find exceedingly odd is that I am not aware of the
government or indeed the Scottish executive ever saying straightforwardly
that there will be no repatriation for Megrahi.
“I think they have to be pressed, they’re wriggling.”
Last week, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed
it was in talks with “all levels” of the Libyan government to secure the
health workers’ release.
“Our ambassador in Tripoli
has raised this at all levels with the Libyan
administration,” said a spokesman.
A spokesman for the US State Department, said: “This is
something we have consistently raised with the Libyans and negotiations are