- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

EDINBURGH, Scotland | British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced mounting criticism Wednesday as the widening controversy over the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber posed yet another challenge to his leadership.

After staying silent for days, Mr. Brown offered his strongest denial yet on Wednesday that promises had been made to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi regarding the fate of 57-year-old Abdel Baset al-Megrahi - the only man convicted in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, which killed 270 people. Scotland freed al-Megrahi Aug. 20 on compassionate grounds because he is in the advanced stages of terminal prostate cancer.

“On our part, there was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to Col. Gadhafi,” Mr. Brown said, responding to repeated allegations that commercial deals with Libya were at stake. “We made absolutely clear to the Libyans and everybody else that this was a decision for the Scottish government.”

But Mr. Brown again shied away from saying whether he thought the release was justified.

Conservative Party leader David Cameron accused Mr. Brown on Wednesday of “double-dealing” when it came to the British public. The criticism came as Scottish lawmakers voiced their disapproval of al-Megrahi’s release in a symbolic vote.

The Scottish government had asked them to endorse al-Megrahi’s release as “consistent with the principles of Scottish justice.” Instead, in a 73-50 vote with one abstention, the legislators condemned Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release al-Megrahi.

The British and Scottish governments released confidential documents Tuesday in an attempt to quell speculation about the motives for the release, but the disclosures appear to have raised more questions than they answered.

The documents showed that British authorities repeatedly stressed the importance of U.K.-Libyan relations and said Britain did not want al-Megrahi to die in prison, even though U.S. Justice Department officials said Tuesday they had assurances that al-Megrahi would serve his full sentence in Scotland.

Meanwhile, al-Megrahi was taken to an intensive care unit in Libya Wednesday after his illness from terminal prostate cancer worsened, family members said. The family members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said doctors informed them of al-Megrahi’s deteriorating health, but they have not been allowed to visit him.

However, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammed Selaya, said al-Megrahi has been moved to a special VIP wing of the hospital in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, where he is being treated. “Al-Megrahi is not in a dangerous situation and is receiving full treatment from a team of Libyan doctors,” he said.

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