Lockerbie defence calls top witness a liar

By Time of article published Sep 27, 2000

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Camp Zeist - Lawyers for two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing challenged the prosecution's star witness on Wednesday, calling him a liar who tried to squeeze money out of his CIA minders when he was a Libyan double agent.

In a tense, sometimes testy cross-examination, Abdul Majid Giaka insisted he told the truth when he said that one of the accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, kept explosives in a locked metal desk drawer at Malta's international airport.

Defence lawyer William Taylor, seeking to cast doubt on Majid's credibility, suggested that Giaka invented the story to squeeze money out of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to start a rent-a-car business on the Mediterranean island.

"That was a complete fabrication by you, carefully thought out by you to be uncheckable," said Taylor in the special Scottish court in Holland that is trying Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

"No, I know that as if it was myself," replied Majid, testifying in Arabic with simultaneous English translation, from behind a plain white screen concealing him from the public gallery.

Taylor also alleged that Majid, 40, lied when he claimed Tuesday under oath that he saw both of the accused at Malta airport shortly before the Lockerbie bombing with a brown Samsonite suitcase.

That incident, said Taylor, was suspiciously unmentioned in cables that Majid's CIA minders in Malta sent to Washington relaying the information that Majid was giving them.

"The whole business of the brown Samsonite suitcase is an invention that comes along late in the day," said Taylor, with fellow defence lawyer Richard Keen at his side.

Majid replied: "I had no interest in telling anybody any lies."

Megrahi, 48, and Fhimah, 44, have both pleaded not guilty to murder and conspiracy charges in connection with the December 21 1988 bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

All 259 people on the New York-bound Boeing 747 were killed, plus another 11 on the ground.

In the indictment against them, Megrahi and Fhimah are alleged to have been Libyan secret agents who put the bomb - housed in a radio cassette recorder - in a suitcase that was put on a flight out of Malta, tagged for transfer onto Pan Am Flight 103 in London.

Majid, a former Libyan agent turned paid CIA informer who defected to the United States in 1991, said on Tuesday that he saw the two accused at Malta airport shortly before the bombing with a brown Samsonite suitcase.

He also said that Fhimah had shown him explosives and 10 000 dollars in travellers' cheques locked in a desk drawer at Malta's international airport, where Fhimah was Libyan Arab Airlines' station chief.

Majid did not say, however, that he had personally seen the accused prepare the bomb, or that they had ever told him they planned to destroy Pan Am Flight 103.

On Wednesday, Majid often responded "I can't remember" or demanded that Taylor repeat his questions - leading Taylor at one point to suggest: "A liar needs a good memory."

Taylor also challenged Majid's true motives for becoming a paid CIA informer in Malta, after the witness said on Tuesday he was disgusted with the way that Libya was "assassinating" dissidents.

Taylor read passages from CIA cables about Majid wanting the United States to front him 30 000 dollars to help him start a small car-rental agency in Malta, and for help to get "sham surgery" on his arm to dodge military service back in Libya.

By September 1989, Taylor said, Majid's CIA minders wrote that their informer "has never been a true staff member" of Libya's External Security Organisation and was failing to live up to expectations.

Responding in court, Majid said: "I don't remember I did not live up to expections and I don't remember I was blamed for anything."

The trial continues. - Sapa-AFP

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