- Associated Press - Monday, July 19, 2010

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday the decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from a Scottish jail was “completely and utterly wrong.”

Mr. Cameron told British Broadcasting Corp. television he had opposed the Scottish government’s decision to return the cancer-stricken prisoner to Libya on compassionate grounds last August.

Ahead of a visit to the United States beginning Tuesday, during which he is expected to face questioning about the case, Mr. Cameron said the decision was mistaken.

“All I know is as leader of opposition I couldn’t have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong,” he said.

Scotland’s government, which holds some limited powers, made the decision to free al-Megrahi, not the previous British government headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

However, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and others have called for an inquiry into oil giant BP’s lobbying of the British government over a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya — suspecting it may have had some bearing on the case. “I have no idea what BP did, I am not responsible for BP,” said Mr. Cameron, who took office in May.

Mr. Cameron’s office insisted that discussions between BP and the Brown administration on a prisoner transfer agreement had not included talks on al-Megrahi.

Al-Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board, most of them Americans, and 11 people on the ground.

“There were discussions around the prisoner transfer agreement, but that was not related to the al-Megrahi case, which involved a decision taken by the Scottish government,” Mr. Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field told reporters.

Britain and Libya agreed in talks during 2007 on a deal to allow the extradition of suspects and the transfer of prisoners between the two countries. Last year, then-Justice Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that trade had been “a very big part” of the negotiations on a prisoner deal — part of wider efforts by Britain to woo Libya after it renounced violence.

BP has acknowledged that it had urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer deal with Libya, but stressed it didn’t specifically discuss al-Megrahi’s case during those talks.

Mr. Schumer and three other U.S. senators asked the State Department last week to investigate whether BP pressured lawmakers as part of efforts to seek access to Libyan oil fields.

In a letter sent Saturday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John Kerry, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was nothing to suggest BP had influenced the Scottish government.

“There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish executive’s decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release al-Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP,” Mr. Hague wrote.

Mr. Cameron flies into Washington on Tuesday for talks with President Obama, and will hold meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senior legislators at Congress. The British leader will hold separate talks with Sen. John McCain.