The release of Abdel Baset al Megrahi, the man responsible for the murder of 270 civilians in Lockerbie in 1988, is directly linked to oil negotiations with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
That's according to Seif al Islam, the son of the Libyan leader, who told state television that the "liberation" of the mass murderer – who is terminally ill with prostate cancer – was a direct consequence of top-level trade deals between his father and the former Labour Party administration.
Britain vehemently denied suggestions of a quid quo pro deal with Libya, insisting the release was handled solely by the devolved Scottish parliament. But with mass murderer al Megrahi receiving a hero's welcome in Tripoli, what mercy is there for the families torn apart by the atrocity?
Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the skies of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.
It took more than a decade to convict anyone for the bombing, with al Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, being found guilty by a panel of Scottish Judges in 2001.
He was sentenced for life imprisonment for his role in Britain's worst ever mass murder. But despite strong opposition from victims' families and the US government, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill this week took the controversial decision of allowing him to walk free after just eight years.
America's media was predictably incensed by the move. The Washington Times spoke of "waves of anguish [g]ripping the American families of Lockerbie victims" after al Megrahi was greeted with rapturous applause and doused in rose petals when he set foot on Libyan soil. To The Wall Street Journal, his release was nothing short of "a second Lockerbie outrage".
Those sentiments were driven home by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who called the stage-managed reception "outrageous and disgusting," but in Westminster the response was noticeably more muted. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown declined to comment publicly at all.
And shedding some light on his reservation, evidence is now emerging of a possible political motivation for the unpopular release.
"In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, [al Megrahi] was always on the negotiating table," Libyan heir-to-the-throne Seif al Islam told state-run media. Singling out Tony Blair's involvement, he added: "All British interests were linked to the release of Abdul Baset Ali al Megrahi."
Sky News correspondent Tim Marshall lent credibility to the report by writing on his blog: "The British can now expect that doing business in Libya will become easier. On the energy front this is of enormous importance."
Libya has the highest proven oil reserves of any African nation, and with Anglo-Russian ties at an all-time low Britain is in desperate need of a reliable new energy partner. In 2006, the Arab pariah state was conveniently removed from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which lifted restrictions on British energy companies tapping into Libyan reserves.
From a British standpoint, therefore, the release of a man who murdered 270 civilians – drawn from 21 countries around the globe – makes sound economic sense. But morally it remains utterly inexcusable.
Scant mercy was afforded to the 259 people whose final seconds were filled with the most unimaginable terror as Flight 103 broke up in mid-flight. Nor to the 11 people, among them three children, who were extinguished as wreckage from the plane crashed down on the streets of Lockerbie.
The lives that were snuffed out on December 21, 1988 will never be restored. But with a man behind bars for the atrocity, those who lost loved ones could, until now, at least find solace in his punishment.
Al Megrahi's release will be the final injustice they must endure. The mercy so deserved by them was afforded instead to a mass murderer – and pouring salt on their wounds, it once again appears that economic expedience and oil money have taken precedence over the ideals of British justice.
The Boston Herald morbidly summed up the situation by underscoring a key difference between the US and UK legal systems: "If the death penalty had been implemented, then there would have been no reason to release this murderer from prison on reasons of 'compassion'."
Photograph © British Crown