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Vital Lockerbie evidence ‘was tampered with’

Frag­ments of bomb timer that helped to con­vict a Libyan ex-agent were ‘prac­ti­cal­ly car­bonised’ before the tri­al, says bank­rupt Swiss busi­ness­man

by Alex Duval Smith
OBSERVER

The key piece of mate­r­i­al evi­dence used by pros­e­cu­tors to impli­cate Libya in the Locker­bie bomb­ing has emerged as a prob­a­ble fake.

Near­ly two decades after Pan Am flight 103 explod­ed over Scot­land on 21 Decem­ber, 1988, alle­ga­tions of inter­na­tion­al polit­i­cal intrigue and shod­dy inves­tiga­tive work are being lev­elled at the British gov­ern­ment, the FBI and the Scot­tish police as one of the cru­cial wit­ness­es, Swiss engi­neer Ulrich Lumpert, has appar­ent­ly con­fessed that he lied about the ori­gins of a cru­cial ‘timer’ — evi­dence that helped tie the man con­vict­ed of the bomb­ing to the crime.

The dis­as­ter killed 270 peo­ple when the Lon­don to New York Boe­ing 747 explod­ed in mid-air. Britain and the US blamed Libya, say­ing that its leader, Colonel Muam­mar Gadaf­fi, want­ed revenge for the US bomb­ing of Tripoli in 1986. At a tri­al in the Nether­lands in 2001, for­mer Libyan agent Abdul­baset al-Megrahi was jailed for life.

He is cur­rent­ly serv­ing his sen­tence in Greenock prison, but lat­er this month the Scot­tish Court of Appeal is expect­ed to hear Megrahi’s case, after the Scot­tish Crim­i­nal Cas­es Review Com­mis­sion ruled in June that there was enough evi­dence to sug­gest a mis­car­riage of jus­tice. Lumpert’s con­fes­sion, which was giv­en to police in his home city of Zurich last week, will strength­en Megrahi’s appeal.

The Zurich-based Swiss busi­ness­man Edwin Bol­lier, who has spent near­ly two decades try­ing to clear his com­pa­ny’s name, is as eager for the appeal as is Megrahi. Bol­lier’s now bank­rupt com­pa­ny, Mebo, man­u­fac­tured the timer switch that pros­e­cu­tors used to impli­cate Libya after they said that frag­ments of it had been found on a Scot­tish hill­side.

Bol­lier, now 70, admits hav­ing done busi­ness with Libya. ‘Two years before Locker­bie, we sold 20 MST-13 timers to the Libyan mil­i­tary. FBI agents and the Scot­tish inves­ti­ga­tors said one of those timers had been used to det­o­nate the bomb. We were shown a fuzzy pho­to­graph and I con­firmed the frag­ments looked as though they came from one of our timers.’

How­ev­er, Bol­lier was uneasy with the pho­to­graph he had been shown and asked to see the frag­ments. He was final­ly giv­en per­mis­sion in 1998 and trav­elled to Dum­fries to see the evi­dence.

‘I was shown frag­ments of a brown cir­cuit board which matched our pro­to­type. But when the MST-13 went into pro­duc­tion, the timers con­tained green boards. I knew that the timers sold to Libya had green boards. I told the inves­ti­ga­tors this.’

Back in Switzer­land, Bol­lier’s com­pa­ny was in effect bank­rupt, hav­ing faced a law­suit from Pan Am and hav­ing lost major clients, such as the Ger­man fed­er­al police to which Mebo sup­plied com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment.

In 2001, Bol­lier spent five days in the wit­ness box at the Locker­bie tri­al at Camp Zeist in the Nether­lands. ‘I was a defence wit­ness, but the tri­al was so skewed to prove Libyan involve­ment that the details of what I had to say was ignored. A pho­to­graph of the frag­ments was pro­duced in court and I asked to see the pieces again. When they were brought to me, they were prac­ti­cal­ly car­bonised. They had been tam­pered with since I had seen them in Dum­fries.’

Few peo­ple apart from con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists and inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists work­ing on the case were pre­pared to believe Bol­lier until the end of last month, when Lumpert, one of his for­mer employ­ees, walked into a Zurich police sta­tion and asked to swear an affi­davit before a notary.

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