Maltese courts gather fresh Lockerbie evidence
‘Scotland’s letter asked for judicial assistance’
The Maltese courts have been asked to gather fresh evidence connected to the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, The Times has learnt.
Hearings took place behind closed doors last week before Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit. Several Maltese witnesses were called to testify.
The court appears to be reviewing evidence connected to travel logistics but no further information could be obtained from Maltese or Scottish sources.
So high was the level of secrecy surrounding the hearings that the court ushers placed brown, government-issue envelopes in front of the peep-holes on the doors of the courtroom, to prevent even passersby from having a look inside.
The development comes as a group of Scottish lobbyists, who reject the conclusion of the investigation and subsequent conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, prepare to present arguments for the case to be re-examined in an inquiry.
They will appear before the Scottish Parliament later this month.
Speaking to The Times, Lockerbie campaigner Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the attack with another 269 victims, said he was unaware that the Scottish authorities had re-opened any investigation into the atrocity but did not find it surprising.
Over recent years, key elements of the prosecution’s case have been called into question, he pointed out, adding it would be entirely plausible for there to be an attempt to shore up questioned evidence in view of a potential fresh probe into the case.
Attempts to contact the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service, were unsuccessful, while locally the Attorney General’s office would not confirm or deny information about the hearings.
Nonetheless, multiple sources have confirmed that the hearings were connected with the Lockerbie case and were instigated by what is known as a Rogatory Letter from Scotland.
In the letter, a foreign judicial or prosecution institution asks a counterpart in another country for judicial assistance, usually the taking of evidence.
Serious doubts have been raised over the years about crucial evidence that underpinned the trial of former Libyan intelligence officer al-Megrahi.
In August of 2009, hopes that his appeal would shed new light on the matter were dashed when he withdrew his right to challenge his 27-year prison sentence, in return for an early release on compassionate grounds – he suffered from terminal cancer and died in May of this year.
Yet, interest in the case has been re-ignited in the wake of the revolution in Libya.
The upheaval brought about access to previously inaccessible documents and the capture and repatriation late last month of the regime’s infamous intelligence chief, Adbullah al-Senussi – the man who would have had most access to Gaddafi’s darkest secrets.
Lockerbie campaigners such as Dr Swire hope that these developments, as well as an impressive body of evidence disputing the official case, will be reconsidered in an inquiry.
Malta stands to clear her name should such an inquiry take place.
The officially accepted version, underpinned by the disputed testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, is premised on the idea that the bomb left Malta – where al-Megrahi worked at the time – and was then transferred onto Pan Am flight 103 through Frankfurt.
Mr Gauci had identified Mr al-Megrahi as the person who in December 1988 made a random purchase of clothing, the fragments of which were found scattered on the disaster site in Lockerbie.
However, evidence that Mr Gauci had been coached, along with a promise of compensation from the CIA, have undermined the credibility of his testimony.
Inconsistencies in his version have also been pointed out along the years.
The Maltese Government has consistently denied that the bomb could have gone through Luqa airport but has, over recent years, been hesitant to support calls for the case to be re-investigated.