By Business First of Buffalo

Sen. Charles Schumer is pressing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to open a criminal investigation into allegations that beleaguered oil industry behemoth British Petroleum may have engaged in an illegal deal that resulted in Pan Am Flight 103 bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, being released from prison in exchange for BP securing access to Libyan oil fields.

Schumer, in Buffalo Monday, said that Holder can investigate and potentially prosecute under guidelines defined in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. BP and its officials could be held criminally liable, he said.

"A blood money deal is a blood money deal," Schumer said during his press conference in downtown Buffalo's Michael Dillon Federal Courthouse. "It can't be disguised."

Schumer alleges that BP pressured the British government to press for Baset al-Megrahi's release from prison -- a move that he said allowed BP access to the lucrative Libyan oil fields. BP officials declined to comment on Schumer's allegations.

Baset al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced for his role in the December 1988 explosion that destroyed the Pan Am flight bound for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The plane took off from London's Heathrow Airport.

All 259 people on board were killed as were 11 people on the ground. Among the passengers were 189 Americans, including several from Syracuse University. Western New York native Colleen Brunner was in that latter group.

Baset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001, but last year was released, allegedly because he was suffering from prostrate cancer and had just months to live. Baset al-Megrahi returned to a hero's welcome in Libya and is now living in an oceanside villa. Doctors allegedly falsified medical records to allow for Baset al-Megrahi to be released.

"It is time for a criminal investigation," Schumer said.

New York's senior senator, himself an attorney, admitted that the case is clouded with circumstantial evidence, but contended that it is a strong and easily prosecutable one.

"I'd like to be the prosecutor on this one," Schumer said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who will be meeting with President Obama this week, said he thinks the release of Baset al-Megrahi was "completely and utterly wrong."

Copyright 2010 American City Business Journals

Copyright 2010