Libya compensates Lockerbie bomber for jail stint

THE only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing spent 10 years in prison in the Netherlands and Glasgow, but it appears he is being amply compensated for that lost decade.

The Times on Monday tracked down an imposing new house that is being built by, or for, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, in Ben Ashur, a desirable area of central Tripoli containing many of the capital’s embassies.

Construction began six months ago and the house is still only a breeze-block shell but its size and location are impressive.

It is three storeys high, with spacious rooms and balconies. It is near the Azerbaijani Embassy, backs on to the Turkish consulate and has a fine view of the towering minarets and golden dome of the half-finished Mora mosque.

Al-Megrahi has kept a low profile since he was released from a Scottish prison in August 2009, but sources say he inspects this site every week or two.

They say he arrives in different cars, one a red Lamborghini, another a Hummer. His vehicle is escorted by two unmarked Toyota Land Cruisers with a security detail inside.

He does not get out, preferring to examine the builders’ progress from the car.

Stricken with terminal prostate cancer, he is said to have looked hunched, frail and ill on his site visits.

Why al-Megrahi, 58, needs or wants a new house is unclear. He already has a palatial home in the nearby district of Hey Damascus where The Times interviewed him the day after his release, and where he enjoys total privacy.  It has high walls and is in a cul-de-sac, whereas the new house is on a wide boulevard named Shari al-Jarabah.

It could be that he wanted to exploit what was, before the uprising, a buoyant rental market, and to leave a solid, revenue-generating legacy to his four sons, one daughter and assorted grandchildren.

He is also believed to own another house in Ben Ashur, opposite the Maltese Embassy, and either he or the Libyan Government bought one in Glasgow for his family while he was imprisoned there.

It is an impressive property portfolio for a man portrayed at his trial as a mid-ranking employee of Libyan Arab Airlines. It is clear that the regime has looked after him well and few Libyans would object to that.

While the majority of Britons and Americans regard al-Megrahi as the man responsible for the deaths of 270 people in the deadliest terrorist attack in British history, most Libyans see him as an innocent man who sacrificed his freedom to secure the lifting of crippling international sanctions imposed on his country.

Al-Megrahi has always protested his innocence, and insists he only abandoned his appeal so he could go home to die.  One measure of his status is that everyone The Times asked in Hey Damascus and Ben Ashur knew where his houses were.

Another is that the road from Shari al-Jarabah to the Turkish consulate has been blocked off to allow for the construction of the new house. It might be closed for a long time. All building work in Tripoli has ceased.

Apart from occasional sightings outside his new house al-Megrahi has barely been seen since his return. Last week The Times returned to his home in Hey Damascus, hoping to speak either to him or to a relative.

We were intercepted by four plain-clothes agents who emerged from two unmarked cars and detained us for the next two hours without a word of explanation.

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