DAMNING new evidence that a key witness in the Lockerbie case was paid a £2m reward by US investigators will form part of the court appeal by the Libyan convicted of the attack.
Sources close to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) have revealed that the cash was paid to Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci as a direct reward for giving crucial prosecution evidence but was disguised as “compensation”.
Scotland on Sunday can also reveal that another key plank in the appeal will be new evidence that the type of timer used in the bomb was available “all over the place” and not just sold to Libya as claimed in court.
The reward and timer evidence can today be confirmed as the two “missing” appeal grounds submitted by the SCCRC. The Commission said earlier this year it had discovered six grounds of appeal but only gave details of four.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi has been granted a second appeal against his conviction for the December 1988 Lockerbie bombing, in which 270 people died. The Libyan, who is serving life in Greenock Prison, is expected to have his case heard next year.
The SCCRC spent three years examining Megrahi’s conviction and earlier this year referred the case back for appeal after concluding there could have been a miscarriage of justice.
Tony Gauci was an absolutely crucial witness at the original trial, giving “reliable” evidence that Megrahi bought clothes in his shop that were later used to wrap the bomb. Gauci’s evidence has long been considered controversial and there have already been claims that he received rewards and treats from investigators.
Now, a source close to the SCCRC has provided the first confirmation that Gauci received a substantial reward and that it formed part of the grounds for appealing the case.
The Commission has thoroughly checked out the claims and found he received ‘a phenomenal sum of money’ from the US. Sources close to Megrahi’s defence put the sum at $4m, or approximately £2m at current exchange rates.
The source close to the SCCRC told Scotland on Sunday: “It [the reward] has been dressed up as compensation for the impact on his life and business of his close involvement in the case.
“But it clear that it is actually a reward. The US and UK governments needed a conviction in the case and the fact that the key witness was rewarded for his testimony casts doubts on its value.
“It is not acceptable to pay a witness as that practice is likely to make him anxious to please.”
Gauci is understood to be planning to use his newfound wealth to fund a move to Australia with his brother, Paul, who was also on the witness list but was not called to give evidence.
Maltese sources have also revealed that Gauci has stepped up security at the home in Swieqi which he shares with his brother. He rarely ventures out other than to the shop.
One source said: “He used to like the feeling of importance that being a major witness in such a big case gave him, but now he realises he could be a target for some people. He knows doubts have been expressed about his evidence. He gets very jumpy when anyone he doesn’t know approaches, and if the press call him he hangs up.”
The source claimed the reward had caused a split in the Gauci family.
The brothers have five surviving siblings, as well as one who died, and the others have a stake in the shop, Mary’s House, which was founded by their father. Although other family members had little or nothing to do with the investigation, the fact that it was presented as ‘compensation’ which related in part to the impact on the business has led the other siblings to demand a share.
The family split has further reinforced the determination of the brothers to seek a new life.
Another source, a Scottish investigator who worked with the brothers over a number of years, said: “Paul was always going off to Australia and it became a bit of a dream for them that they would move there.”
Contacted at their home, Paul Gauci said: “We are under very heavy pressure here. The press want to photograph us, everybody wants to interview my brother, we have no privacy. When we step out the door, there are people with cameras. Our lives are intolerable here.”
The second “missing” appeal ground relates to a fragment of timer found in a shirt collar and later confirmed as part of the mechanism which detonated the bomb above Lockerbie. The original court case heard evidence the Swiss-made MST13 timers were only supplied to Libya.
At a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Megrahi’s lawyers demanded the release of a document in the possession of the Crown and believed to have come from a foreign intelligence agency they believe will disprove that part of the case.
Much has been made of the importance of that document since its existence was leaked to the media by Megrahi’s legal team. But informed sources close to the SCCRC have confirmed that an abundance of evidence has already emerged to show the MST13s, made by the Swiss firm Mebo, ‘were all over the place’.
It was established long ago that they were also supplied to the Stasi, the East German secret police, but it has now emerged that they had a much wider penetration than the Crown’s case implied.