Former Lord Advocate Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC has admitted that new documents show Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, whose evidence was the cornerstone in convicting Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie disaster did receive payment for his testimony.
The issue has been a hot potato for years and while American authorities insist that witnesses were never paid, the former law chief who led the Lockerbie bombing probe hit out after a leaked report claimed key witness Gauci had been paid £1.2million to testify.
In recent comments to The Scottish Sun, Lord Fraser said: “I have to accept that it happened. It shouldn’t have and I was unaware of it. It is obviously unacceptable in the biggest case of mass murder ever carried out in Europe.”
He added that he had warned Scottish investigators at the time that offering bribes to witnesses would be “unacceptable”.
But a documentary aired recently on Al Jazeera, Lockerbie: The Pan Am Bomber, has revealed papers claiming Gauci was offered “unlimited funds” before he was paid.
The claims are made in findings from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which insists there is evidence of a mistrial, findings which had led convicted bomber Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to launch an appeal against his conviction. The appeal was ditched two years ago when al-Megrahi was released from jail suffering from cancer.
The report was kept under wraps until now, despite the efforts of the SNP to release them.
The findings, which rely heavily on diary entries by retired Strathclyde Police detective Harry Bell, also say Gauci’s brother Paul received £600,000, despite not testifying.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission report says Scottish police applied to US authorities for reward cash after the trial and “substantial payments were received by both Tony and Paul Gauci after the appeal”.
Tony Gauci became the key witness as clothes from the suitcase that carried the bomb on Pan Am flight 103 - which killed 270 in 1988 - were traced back to his shop in Malta.
In addition to the payment of the Maltese witness for testimony, the Commission had previously found several other problems with the evidence on which al-Megrahi had been convicted.
Mr al-Megrahi’s appeal had been granted after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission found the reliability of Maltese evidence used to convict the former Libyan intelligence agent of carrying out as highly questionable and recommended he be granted an appeal.
Al-Megrahi had been convicted largely on the basis of evidence supplied by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci of Mary’s House Tower Road Sliema. In his evidence Mr Gauci had identified Al-Megrahi as the purchaser of articles of clothing and an umbrella found in the suitcase - placed on an Air Malta flight and transferred to the Pan Am flight in Frankfurt - containing the bomb.
The Commission, however, found “there is no reasonable basis in the trial court’s judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary’s House, took place on 7 December 1988”, an argument that had sealed the indictment against Al-Megrahi.
The Commission noted that although it had been proven Al-Megrahi had been in Malta on several occasions in the month in question, it was determined through new evidence submitted that 7 December 1988 was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to make the purchases from Mary’s House.
New evidence in the Commission’s hands at the time, not heard at the trial, concerned the date on which Christmas lights had been illuminated in Sliema near Mary’s House which, taken together with Mr Gauci’s evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, indicates the purchase of the incriminating items had taken place before 6 December 1988 – when no evidence had been presented at trial to the effect that the applicant was in Malta before 6 December.
Yet more new evidence given to the Commission indicates that Mr Gauci, four days before the identification parade at which he picked out Al-Megrahi, had seen a photograph of Al-Megrahi in a magazine article linking him to the bombing.
The Commission found Mr Gauci’s exposure to the photograph, so close to the date of the identity parade, “undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself”.