Tony Blair has been accused of agreeing a ‘blood money’ deal involving the Lockerbie bomber with Colonel Gaddafi just hours before BP unveiled a Â£500million oil contract.
The then Prime Minister laid the foundations for the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi during a meeting with the Libyan leader in a desert tent two years ago.
The pair thrashed out a controversial prisoner transfer deal just before BP chairman Peter Sutherland announced the firm was investing $900million – about Â£545million – to search for oil in Libya. If the firm strikes rich, it could be worth Â£13billion.
The Scottish Government confirmed that its justice secretary Kenny MacAskill would announce Megrahi’s fate at 1pm today.
It is widely expected that the terminally-ill 57-year-old, the only person convicted of the December 1988 bombing, will be freed on compassionate grounds.
The Scottish Executive said in a statement: ‘Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has informed families and other interested parties that he has reached his decisions on the applications for prisoner transfer and compassionate release in relation to Mr Megrahi and will announce his decisions on Thursday, August 20, 2009.
‘This fulfils the Justice Secretary’s pledge to inform families on both sides of the Atlantic, in advance, of the timing of his public announcement.’
If as expected he is released rather than moved to a Libyan jail, he will almost certainly board a private jet at Prestwick Airport, Ayrshire.
The affair has caused a huge transatlantic rift with families of the victims outraged.
Megrahi’s wife Aisha told The Times her husband still ‘didn’t know’ when he would be freed from Glasgow’s Greenock prison, but was ‘very happy’ at the prospect of returning to his homeland.
It was also reported that the convicted bomber had called his mother in Libya and told her he hoped to be with her by Ramadan,
Hajja Fatma, 95, told the Tripoli Post in Libya: ‘I do not close the house’s door at all. I am expecting him to enter at any moment.
‘Eleven years I did not spend the holy month of Ramadan with him, I am waiting for that day when he comes back.’
She maintained that her son was innocent of killing 270 people in the Lockerbie bomb, saying ‘he would not slaughter a chicken’.
The U.S. government continued to put last-minute pressure on the Scottish Executive yesterday, with a spokesman for Mr Obama insisting Megrahi should ‘serve out his term’ in Scotland.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued a personal plea to keep the bomber behind bars.
The former New York Senator said she knew many of the American families who lost relatives in the atrocity and that to release Megrahi would be ‘absolutely wrong’.
Mrs Clinton yesterday said Megrahi’s release would be ‘inappropriate, and very much against the wishes of the family members of the victims who suffered such grievous losses’.
She added: ‘I take this very personally because I knew a lot of the family members of those who were lost.
‘I just think it is absolutely wrong to release someone who has been imprisoned based on the evidence about his involvement in such a horrendous crime.
‘We are still encouraging the Scottish authorities not to do so, and hope they will not.’
Later, Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Mr Obama, added: ‘It’s the policy of this administration that this individual should serve out his term where he’s serving it right now.’
In a thinly-veiled attack on U.S. attempts to influence the decision, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has insisted ‘international power politics’ will be ignored.
But the SNP can expect a huge transatlantic outcry if, as is likely, Megrahi is granted mercy.
Critics are suspicious that Mr Blair’s deal was part of an attempt to develop closer relations with the former pariah state to protect Britain’s oil interests.
Susan Cohen, whose only child Theodora, 20, was killed in the bombing, said: ‘Tony Blair has behaved absolutely appallingly. Some people would describe it as blood money.
‘He put compassion for the oil industry ahead of any compassion for my daughter, for the families of all those people killed by a convicted mass murderer and terrorist.
‘It just shows that the power of oil money counts for more than justice.’
Christine Grahame, an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament who believes Megrahi is innocent, said the politics of the case ‘had to be examined’.
‘The Libyan government paid the U.S. relatives Â£803million in compensation,’ she said. ‘Afterwards what happens? The U.S. and UK governments pay almost exactly the same amount to allow oil exploration in Libya. There are dirty deals here.’
On Tuesday Megrahi, who has been told he could have only days to live, dropped his second appeal, removing any legal bar on his release.
Despite the likelihood of Megrahi’s release, there have been no public moves to bring back the Libyan gunman who murdered WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1984.
The 25-year-old was patrolling a protest outside the Libyan Embassy when she was killed by a bullet fired from inside. All those inside were allowed to return to Tripoli under diplomatic immunity.
WPC Fletcher’s mother Queenie, 76, of Dorset, last week said she was ‘sickened’ at any deal to repatriate Megrahi.