Saturday, October 03, 2009

US paid reward to Lockerbie witness, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi papers claim.

Two witnesses in the case against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi were secretly given rewards of up to $3 million by the US government, which is one of the reasons why the conviction against him was considered unsafe.

The documents published online by Megrahi's lawyers today show that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) was asked to pay $2m to Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who gave crucial evidence at the trial suggesting that Megrahi had bought clothes later used in the suitcase that allegedly held the Lockerbie bomb.

The DoJ was also asked to pay a further $1m to his brother, Paul Gauci, who did not give evidence but played a major role in identifying the clothing and in "maintaining the resolve of his brother". The DoJ said their rewards could be increased and that the brothers were also eligible for the US witness protection programme, according to the documents.

The previously secret payments were uncovered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which returned Megrahi's conviction to the court of appeal in 2007 as a suspected miscarriage of justice. Many references were in private diaries kept by the detectives involved, Megrahi's lawyers said, but not their official notebooks.

The entire Scottish legal system has been under pressure from the Obama administration for their decision to release Megrahi on humanitarian grounds, once he was found to be suffering from terminal cancer.

But Megrahi's conviction has always been a subject of controversy, with people as influential as Nelson Mandela pleading his innocence and demanding his transfer to a Muslim country.

The news that US authorities paid witnesses to testify against Megrahi only makes the conviction against him look even less safe.

A memo written by "DI Dalgleish" to "ACC Graham" in 2007 confirms the men received "substantial payments from the American authorities".

The inspector claims the rewards were "engineered" after Megrahi's trial and appeal were over, but said there was "a real danger that if [the] SCCRC's statement of reasons is leaked to the media, Anthony Gauci could be portrayed as having given flawed evidence for financial reward."
And there is, indeed, evidence that Gauci changed his story several times:

In 23 police interviews, Gauci gave contradictory evidence about who he believed bought the clothes, the person's age, appearance and the date of purchase. Two identification experts hired by Megrahi's appeal team said the police and prosecution breached the rules on witness interviews, using "suggestive" lines of questioning and allowing "irregular" identification line-ups.

It would obviously have been better for all concerned had this been examined in a court of law, but the fact that Megrahi was dying made this impractical.

However, it should be apparent from the release of this evidence that the case against Megrahi was nowhere near as clear cut as many Americans seem to believe that it was.

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