New doubts have been cast over the testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, whose testimony was a key factor in the conviction of Lockerbie bomb suspect Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.
In comments to the Sunday Times of London, the former Lord Advocate who issued the arrest warrant for the Libyan, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, described Gauci as “not quite the full shilling” and “an apple short of a picnic”.
Gauci was instrumental in securing Megrahi’s conviction when he recognised the suspect in a photo shown to him by detectives at Mary’s House, the clothes shop he runs in Sliema. Gauci claimed he had sold Megrahi clothes that were later found wrapped around the bomb.
“Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say he was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy, I don’t think he was deliberately lying but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer,” Fraser said.
Tony Gauci, contacted by MaltaToday on Friday, had little to say about Fraser’s comments: “I am not interested in what this man said. What matters to me is what the Court said and that’s it…. He can say what he likes. They know what was said in Court. The case is closed and that’s it now.”
But the admissions have clearly attracted grave reactions from other parties, especially following a former Scottish police chief’s claims that key evidence in the bombing trial had been fabricated by the CIA.
In a signed statement to Megrahi’s lawyers, the retired officer said the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting the Libyan. The evidence will be crucial for Megrahi who is attempting to get a retrial ordered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).
William Taylor QC, the man who led Megrahi’s defence, told the Sunday Times it was “scandalous” that Fraser had admitted a witness whose credibility he doubted.
“A man prosecuting in the criminal courts in Scotland has a duty to put forward evidence based upon people he considers to be reliable. He was prepared to advance Gauci as a witness of truth in terms of the identification and if he had these misgivings about him, they should have surfaced at the time.
“The fact he is now coming out many years later after my former client has been in prison for nearly four and a half years is nothing short of disgraceful. Gauci’s evidence was absolutely central to the conviction and for Peter Fraser not to realise that is scandalous.”
Jim Swire, the spokesman for families of victims who lost his daughter Flora in the atrocity, said: “Lord Fraser had detailed knowledge of events and I think we have to take seriously anything he says now that is relevant to those who gave evidence at Zeist. It is significant that a man who has been as close as he has to the investigation should be making comments like this.”
During the investigation, clothing fibres with a label “Made in Malta” were traced to fragments of a Samsonite suitcase believed to have contained the bomb. The clothes were traced to Tony Gauci, who then became a key prosecution witness.
Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, when a plastic explosive was detonated in its cargo hold, killing 270 people and 11 people on the ground. Lockerbie became Britain’s largest criminal inquiry, led by the the Scottish Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the FBI. Indictments for murder were issued in 1991 against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta.
Megrahi was convicted of murder on January 31, 2001 and was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment. Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi’s case is currently being reviewed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.