The Libyan authorities have applied for the transfer of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, the Scottish government said today.
The move, which could see Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi sent home to Libya to serve out his sentence, follows last week's ratification of a prisoner transfer agreement between the British and Libyan governments.
A Scottish government spokesman said: "The application will be considered by officials who will provide information and advice to Scottish ministers for decision on this matter.
"Under the terms of the agreement this process may take 90 days although it could be longer if further information is required in relation to the application, or for another reason."
[From The Herald's website. The BBC News website's report can be read here. The report on The Scotsman's website can be accessed here. The following are excerpts:
'[Megrahi's] second appeal against conviction began at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh last week, but this must be dropped if his transfer to a Libyan jail is to take place.
'Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was on board the Pan Am flight 103, welcomed the development.
'He said: "I am not opposed to this simply because I don't believe the man is guilty as charged and I don't think Megrahi should be in prison."
'He said it was only "right" Megrahi, who is dying from cancer, should be allowed home.
'But Dr Swire added: "He has to renounce his appeal before he can go home. Just because the authorities have applied doesn't mean it is going to happen immediately."
'The application to the Scottish Government was made late yesterday, officials said.
'Under terms of Britain's agreement with Libya, a decision on transferring a prisoner cannot be made if there are any outstanding legal proceedings.
'But the fact that legal proceedings are still outstanding does not prevent an application being lodged.
'The prisoner transfer deal was ratified last Wednesday – the day after Megrahi's second appeal began in Edinburgh.
'For a prisoner like Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, the requirement that there can be no legal proceedings outstanding poses an agonising choice.
'He can either drop his appeal – and with it his bid to clear his name – and seek a return to Libya. Or he can persist with an appeal – and possibly die before it is completed.
'Labour's Scottish justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "It is absolutely right that it is Scottish ministers that will be responsible for any decision to transfer Mr Megrahi.
'"The Scottish Justice Minister has responsibility for Scottish prisoners and so it follows that Kenny MacAskill should decide on the issue."
'Barrie Berkley, who lost his son Alistair, said he hoped the appeal would continue.
'Mr Berkley, of Hexham, Northumberland, said: "I would rather the appeal be completed first and I hope the courts would facilitate it going through without any further delay.
'"We want the appeal to go through because it's the main means of us getting further information about how our family members died or why they died.
"We really want to know whether the Libyans were behind this and Megrahi was behind it.
'"Or of course if he was found not guilty that would mean the inquiry would have to reopen and the various agencies of the US and UK would need to find who was behind it if it wasn't Megrahi.
'"Our main motive is to find out whether Megrahi did do it or not."
'He added: "If he is found guilty then the Government has to decide where he serves the remainder of his term. It shouldn't be up to him or the Libyan authorities."'
The relevant legal provisions governing prisoner transfer are set out here. A prisoner may be transferred only if the judgment against him is final and no other criminal proceedings are pending in the transferring state. This means that Abdelbaset Megrahi's current appeal would have to be abandoned before transfer takes place. But it would seem on the face of it that there is no reason why the appeal should not continue while the Scottish Government is considering the application. Transfer cannot be effected without the consent of the prisoner concerned since it is he alone who can instruct the appeal to be abandoned to allow transfer to take place.]