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Article 'swayed Lockerbie witness'

Five Scottish judges are hearing the appeal in the Netherlands
Five Scottish judges are hearing the appeal in the Netherlands  

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands -- More questions were raised by defence lawyers on Monday about the credibility of a witness whose testimony was critical in convicting a Libyan over the Lockerbie bombing.

Lawyer William Taylor said the identification of his client, Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, was prejudiced because the witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, had seen his photograph in a magazine a few weeks before singling him out in a lineup.

Al-Megrahi, 49, is appealing at Camp Zeist, Netherlands, against his conviction one year ago for placing a bomb-laden suitcase aboard a flight in Malta.

The suitcase was transferred onto Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded on December 21, 1988, above Lockerbie, Scotland shortly after departing Heathrow Airport, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 people on the ground.

Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation to serve at least 20 years.

Gauci picked out Al-Megrahi in a lineup of suspects in April 1999, more than 10 years after he said the former Libyan intelligence agent bought clothing in his store.

The clothes were identified by investigators as having been packed in the suitcase in which the bomb was hidden.

Taylor said Gauci had seen a magazine article in late 1998 or early 1999 about the Lockerbie case which displayed Al-Megrahi's photograph and called him a suspect.

"There was a very direct way in which the witness may have been influenced in his identification," Taylor argued. He also raised discrepancies in Gauci's earlier statements to police and his testimony in court about Al-Megrahi's height and age.

Al-Megrahi (right) was pictured in a magazine article before a police line-up
Al-Megrahi (right) was pictured in a magazine article before a police line-up  

The attorney is presenting 17 points of appeal to the five judges before the prosecution responds. Hearings are likely to last several weeks.

In London, Labour member of Parliament, Tom Dalyell, said he wanted the government to respond to reports that police organised vacations for Gauci in Scotland.

The Mail on Sunday reported that it had obtained secret tapes in which Gauci claimed he had been flown from his home in Malta to Scotland for fishing, hiking and bird-watching trips. The paper said Gauci was also taken to Lockerbie to be shown the damage caused by the explosion.

A Libyan defence lawyer said on Monday that reports alleging Libya is negotiating compensation for victims' families were damaging Al-Megrahi's appeal, which began last week.

"I am concerned that the timing of these reports could prejudice my client's appeal," Ibrahim Legwell said in a statement.

U.S. State Department officials recently met Libyan representatives in London to press Washington's demand that Tripoli accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and compensate the relatives.

The United States has maintained sanctions against Libya imposed in 1986, even though the United Nations lifted sanctions against Libya two years ago.

Separately, families of U.S. victims have filed suit in the U.S. District Court of New York against the Libyan government seeking up to $20 million for each of the casualties.


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