Published on Sunday, April 8, 2001 in The Sunday Herald (Scotland)
UN Claims Lockerbie Trial Was Rigged
Court was politically influenced by US
by Neil Mackay
THE United Nations has savaged the Crown Office's handling of the Lockerbie trial claiming the outcome was rigged through the unfair suppression of evidence; it was politically influenced by the USA; and the court had no grounds to return a guilty verdict.
Dr Hans Kochler, who was handpicked by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to act as the international observer during the trial in Holland, hinted that the trial was rigged, claimed the guilty verdict handed down in February to Abdelbasset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi was "arbitrary" and "irrational" and gave his tacit support for an acquittal at the planned appeal. Megrahi's co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty.
Kochler's report, which calls for the case to be re- investigated and is heavily critical of the conduct of the three trial judges - Lord Sutherland, Lord Coulsfield and Lord MacLean - has sparked a bitter war of words between the Scottish Executive, the Crown Office and the United Nations. A spokesman for Colin Boyd, the Lord Advocate, said the UN and its international observer had "completely misunderstood" the trial and were ignorant of Scots law.
Kochler's report said the presence in court of two state prosecutors from the US Department of Justice was "highly problematic". They were not listed in any of the official documents about the Court's officers yet they were constantly briefing Scottish prosecutors.
Kochler added: "This created the impression of 'supervisors' handling vital matters of the prosecution strategy and deciding, in certain cases, which documents were to be released in open court or what parts of information were to be withheld."
He pointed to the handling of the key prosecution witness, Majid Giaka, a Libyan double agent who implicated both accused in the bombing of Pan Am 103, as proof of how "representatives of foreign governments in the Scottish courtroom" led to a "serious problem of due process".
During the case, CIA documents concerning Giaka were dismissed as "not relevant" by the prosecution. The documents were later released in a censored form and, said Kochler, "proved to be of high relevance".
"This seriously damaged the integrity of the whole legal procedure," he said claiming that US Justice Department officials had jeopardised "the independence and integrity of legal procedures".
He added that this was "not in conformity with the general standards of due process and fairness ... [and] negatively impacted on the court's ability to find the truth". Kochler criticised the trial judges, led by Lord Sutherland, for introducing "a political element into the proceedings" by allowing the US prosecutors to sit in court.
The UN report also says that: "It was a consistent pattern during the whole trial that - as an apparent result of political interests and considerations - efforts were undertaken to withhold substantial information from the court."
Kochler again pointed to a number of documents relating to Giaka not being made available to defence. "The court was apparently content with this situation."
The UN also condemned the administration of Scottish justice following a statement by the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, claiming that an unnamed foreign government had "substantial new information relating to the defence case".
The information was never provided by the unnamed government, despite the defence planning to show that a Palestinian terrorist group had carried out the bombing, not Libya. The accused's lawyers effectively went on to put on no defence or call any witnesses.
Kochler questioned the "actions and motives" of the accused lawyers in not putting on a defence. Defence lawyers refused to speak to the UN about this despite repeated requests.
"Virtually all people presented by the prosecution as key witnesses were proven to lack credibility to a very high extent," the report goes on. Kochler pointed to a number of witnesses, such as Giaka, who, Kochler said, lied in court.
The report questioned the judges' conduct in incorporating their evidence into their verdict, saying: "It seems highly arbitrary and irrational to choose only parts of their statements for the formulation of a verdict that requires certainty 'beyond any reasonable doubt'."
Kochler added: "The air of international power politics is present in the whole verdict of the judges The guilty verdict in the case of [Al Megrahi] is particularly incomprehensible in view of the admission by the judges themselves that the identification was "not absolute" and that there was a "mass of conflicting evidence".
He said the verdict was "exclusively based on circumstantial evidence and inferences", adding: "There is not one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime." He said the wording of the verdict pointed more in the direction of a "not proven" verdict.
He added: "The trial, seen in its entirety, was not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner. Indeed, there are many more questions and doubts at the end of the trial than there were at its beginning.
"The trial has created more confusion than clarity Irrespective of this regrettable outcome, the search for the truth must continue. This is the requirement of the rule of law and the right of the victims' families and of the international public."
Kochler ended his UN report by saying that he hoped "that an appeal will correct the deficiencies of the trial".
A spokesman for the Crown Office said: "The UN observer, Dr Kochler, appears to have misunderstood a number of aspects of criminal procedure and processes in this case." The Crown pointed out that it was up to prosecution and defence, not judges, to investigate the case and decide which evidence is heard in court.
"The suggestion that the verdict was politically motivated again proceeds on a complete misunderstanding of the function and independence of the judiciary," the spokesman added.
Copyright 2001 Sunday Herald