“In the draft, Shell tells Mr Blair to discuss positive progress on weapons of mass destruction as well as the investigation into the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984.”
David Robertson, Business Correspondent
Tony Blair lobbied Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on behalf of Shell in a letter written for him in draft form by the oil company, documents obtained by The Times reveal.
The correspondence, written while Mr Blair was Prime Minister, bears a striking resemblance to a briefing note by Royal Dutch Shell weeks earlier promoting a $500 million (£325 million) deal it was trying to clinch in Libya.
While it is common for government ministers to champion British interests abroad, Shells draft reveals an unusual assurance in its ability to dictate Mr Blairs conversation with the Libyan leader. It also raises questions about the motives behind Britains improved relations with Libya and the subsequent release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber. Lockerbie victims have claimed that the Government paved the way for al-Megrahis release as part of a deal with Libya to give British companies access to Libyas lucrative oil and gas industry.
In the draft, Shell tells Mr Blair to discuss positive progress on weapons of mass destruction as well as the investigation into the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984.
According to the Shell draft, the letters objective was to cause the Leader to instruct the Cabinet to approve/finalise quickly the companys deal. Shell tells the Prime Minister to congratulate the Libyan leader on Revolution Day and to comment on the remarkable year of progress for Libya. In relation to the Shell deal, the draft letter said: Understand that all the terms of the agreement have now been negotiated and approved … now waiting for [Libyan] Cabinet approval.
The Cabinet Office would release only a part of Mr Blairs official letter but the section on Shell sounds very similar to the draft. I understand that the necessary technical discussions with the relevant authorities in Libya have been completed satisfactorily, it states. All that is needed now are final decisions by the [Libyan] General Peoples Committee to go ahead. The Libyan Cabinet agreed the Shell deal shortly after this letter was written and the contract was signed in May 2005.
Both letters were released after a lengthy Freedom of Information process. The Times first asked for them after al-Megrahi was released last August on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government, which said that he had only months to live.
Al-Megrahi, who killed 270 people on board Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, celebrated his 58th birthday in Tripoli last month. There was speculation that his release was part of a deal struck between Britain and Libya to improve diplomatic ties between the countries.
The Government denied this, although it emerged that Britain and Libya had signed a prisoner transfer deal in 2007 that included al-Megrahi. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time, said that al-Megrahi had been included in the transfer deal in view of the overwhelming interests of the UK.
BP has signed a $900 million deal to explore offshore oilfields and BG Group, the former British Gas, is searching for resources in the Libyan Desert. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil producer, secured a $500 million deal to build a liquid natural gas terminal on the Libyan coast. BAE Systems, Europes largest defence company, also struck a deal to upgrade the countrys air traffic control system.
Last September The Times requested all communication between the Department for Business and these companies. A limited number were released in December. One was an email from Shell to UK Trade & Investment dated September 2004 complaining of slow progress with its Libyan deal. Just months earlier Mr Blair and Colonel Gaddafi had met in a tent outside Tripoli to end Libyas diplomatic isolation.
Shell declined to comment but sources familiar with the companys lobbying operation said that it was not unusual for large businesses to discuss diplomatic support with the Government.