Tony Blair helped Colonel Gaddafi in £1bn legal row ~ Robert Mendick, and Edward Malnick, TELEGRAPH.CO.UK
Tony Blair promised to help Col Muammar Gaddafi in a billion-pound legal dispute with victims of a Libyan terrorist attack, according to official correspondence obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.
Documents show that Gaddafi turned to Mr Blair after a US court ordered Libya to pay $1.5billion (£1billion) in damages to relatives of seven Americans killed when a bomb exploded on a Paris-bound passenger jet in west Africa. According to the email, Mr Blair approached President George W Bush after promising the Libyan leader that he would intervene in the case.
Mr Bush subsequently signed the Libyan Claims Resolution Act in August 2008, which invalidated the $1.5billion award made by the court.
UTA Flight 772 from Chad was blown up on Sept 19, 1989, by Libyan intelligence services, killing all 170 passengers. The attack took place nine months after Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killing 270 people.
The relatives of UTA Flight 772 had won the billion-pound court case in January 2008 after a seven-year legal battle, causing serious difficulties for the Libyan regime in the US. The ruling meant the proceeds of Libyan business deals, mainly in oil and gas but including other investments, could be seized in the US.
Mr Blair’s involvement in the case is outlined in an email obtained by The Sunday Telegraph. The document was written by Sir Vincent Fean, the then British ambassador to Libya, and was sent to Mr Blair’s aides on June 8, 2008, two days before Mr Blair met Gaddafi in Libya.
It was one of at least six private trips made by Mr Blair to Libya after he quit as prime minister in June 2007. The first trip to meet Gaddafi was made in February 2008. The previous month a US federal court had made the $1.5billion award to Flight 772 victims.
The email written by Sir Vincent outlines points for Mr Blair to raise in his meeting with Gaddafi. It also shows that a key aide to Mr Blair had met with a senior US diplomat to discuss the Flight 772 case.
Sir Vincent wrote: “On USA/Libya, TB should explain what he said to President Bush (and what Banner [a Blair aide] said to Welch [a US diplomat]) to keep his promise to Col Q [Gaddafi] to intervene after the President allowed US courts to attach Libyan assets.”
The memo went on: “He [Blair] could express satisfaction at the progress made in talks between the US and Libya to reach a Govt to Govt solution to all the legal/compensation issues outstanding from the 1980s. It would be good to get these issues resolved, and move on. The right framework is being created. HMG is not involved in the talks, although some British citizens might be affected by them (Lockerbie, plus some UK Northern Irish litigants going to US courts seeking compensation from Libya for IRA terrorist acts funded/fuelled by Libya).”
The memo reveals that Nick Banner, Mr Blair’s chief of staff in his role as Middle East peace envoy, had spoken to David Welch, the US official who was negotiating with the Libyans over compensation for victims of terrorism.
The American lawyer who had won the court order in January 2008 only to have it made invalid by the act signed by Mr Bush said his clients had “got screwed”.
Stuart Newberger, a senior partner at the international law firm Crowell & Moring, said: “This case was thwarted by President Bush, who directed the State Department to negotiate a package deal that ended all Libyan-related terrorism cases, including my judgment. I had heard rumours about Blair’s involvement but this is the first time that role was confirmed.”
He added: “I never considered this an honourable way to carry out diplomacy. It sent the wrong message to terrorist states – don’t worry about these lawsuits and judgments as the politicians will eventually fix it.”
Under the terms of the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, Libya made a one-off payment to victims of all Libyan state-sponsored terrorism including the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103, UTA Flight 772 and a Berlin discotheque. The payment, totalling $1.5billion, gave Libya immunity from all terrorism-related lawsuits.
The relatives of victims of UTA 772 received about $ 100million, rather than the court award of $1.5billion. Relatives of victims of Pan Am 103 welcomed the agreement which saw them get the final instalment of compensation already agreed. The deal meant all victims of Libyan terrorism received the same award.
The Sunday Telegraph has also obtained a separate letter, sent on June 2 from Gavin Mackay – a Foreign Office official seconded to Mr Blair in his role as Middle East peace envoy at the Office of the Quarter Representative (OQR) – to Libya’s ambassador in London.
The letter, on OQR-headed notepaper details Mr Blair’s gratitude that Libya is providing him with a private jet to fly him from Sierra Leone to Tripoli for a four-hour stopover and then on to the UK.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, expressed concern that the trip appeared to be arranged through Mr Blair’s public role as Middle East envoy.
He said: “Unless Mr Blair can come up with a convincing explanation as to why the Quartet secretariat should have been involved in this visit, it would indeed be a reason for legitimate and serious criticism.”
A spokesman for Tony Blair said: “The only conversation he ever had with regard to this matter was to give a general view that it was in the interests of both Libya and the USA to resolve those issues in a fair manner and move on.”