BP chief declines to testify about al Megrahi release

Tony Hayward is focused on a "smooth and successful leadership change" at the oil company, where he is stepping down as chief executive, and will not stand before the US Congress.

WASHINGTON // The outgoing chief executive of BP is personally refusing a request by U.S. senators to testify next month about BP's role in the release of the man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In a letter this week signed by Tony Hayward and obtained by The Associated Press, Hayward told Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, that he is focused on ensuring a "smooth and successful leadership change" at the company and will be unable to testify. The committee is looking into whether the British-based oil company had sought Abdel Baset al Megrahi's release to help get a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya off the ground. The company has acknowledged that it had urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it did not specify al Megrahi's case. Menendez initially planned the hearing for last month, but was forced to postpone it when he could not get Hayward or officials from Britain and Scotland to testify. The committee did not receive anything directly from Hayward back then; instead, the company's government relations office communicated with the Senate committee by phone. At the time, Hayward told reporters in London, "I have a busy week so we are sending someone else." The company offered to send a regional vice president for Europe, but Menendez was not satisfied. He wanted Hayward along with Sir Mark Allen, a BP adviser who Menendez said acted as a liaison between the company and the Libyan and British governments. "I reiterate that I believe it is critical to hear BP's perspective from you," Menendez wrote in a letter to Hayward on July 29, italicizing the last two words. "Since neither you nor Sir Mark Allen were available to testify on the original hearing date, we have postponed the hearing and look forward to working with your office to get dates in September on which you both will be available to testify." But Hayward made it clear in his latest letter that this was more than a scheduling conflict. Citing public comments from British and Scottish officials saying they found no evidence that BP played a role in al Megrahi's release, Hayward said, "BP has nothing to add to these clear, unequivocal statements." Hayward sat through a grueling all-day congressional hearing in June on the oil spill, in which lawmakers subjected him to withering criticism. It is an experience he certainly has no desire to repeat. Still, the senator's office said it would continue to press for Hayward's appearance. Menendez has said that although the committee cannot compel foreign nationals to testify at a hearing in the U.S., the committee will look into whether Hayward could be subpoenaed because BP conducts business in the U.S. Al Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing, which killed all 259 people on board, most of them Americans, and 11 people on the ground. In August of last year, Scotland's government released the cancer-stricken man on compassionate grounds and he returned to Libya. At the time, doctors advising the government gave al Megrahi three months to live, but he is still alive. * Associated Press