DURING the past year a small ship bristling with computers and seismic equipment has been crisscrossing the Gulf of Sidra, in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. Its mission: to help to find BP’s next offshore oilfields.
The company’s search for oil off Libya and in a 20,000-mile area in the west of the country potentially offers as much as £15 billion in new revenue. But less than two years ago it was feared that the deal could founder — and the reason was wrangling over Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the jailed Lockerbie bomber.
BP was finally given the go-ahead six weeks after a volte-face by the British government to include Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya under which prisoners could serve out sentences in their home countries. Jack Straw, the justice secretary, revealed this decision in a letter to his Scottish counterpart. He cited “wider negotiations” and the “overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom”.
Sources in the UK and Tripoli said last week that those wider interests included BP’s hoped-for share of Libya’s untapped oil and gas reserves. The decision to include Megrahi in the prisoner transfer arrangement was seen by Libyan officials as paving the way for his release — and BP’s much-coveted deal was finally ratified.
This is to follow up in the discussion in the recent post on Libya, where we spoke of US lobbying groups and their role in the rehabilitation of Libya. The above-linked article adds more on the British dimension, linking Peter Mandelson and several British business figures:
Negotiations over the release of Megrahi had been spearheaded by Gadaffi’s son, Saif. He was also courting influential figures and financiers in Russia, America and the UK to improve his country’s image and forge new business links.
Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers. The firm would not comment last week.
One of the firm’s founders is Peter Brown, an old friend of Mandelson. The business secretary, who has stayed with Brown on the Caribbean island of St Barts, said this weekend that he could not recollect discussing Libya with anyone from Brown Lloyd James.
It is perhaps inevitable that the high-powered and wealthy figures who mix with Saif Gadaffi also pass through Mandelson’s orbit. Mutual associates include Lord Rothschild, his son Nat, and the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, whose company Rusal has interests in Libya.
To Deripaska and Nat Rothschild, Saif Gadaffi is an invaluable business contact. They were invited to his 37th birthday party in Montenegro, where they are both investors in a new marina development.
Of course, another compelling reason for the release was to avoid a retrial or new investigation into the Lockerbie bombing in light of the problems with the original investigation and trial.