LONDON — Tony Blair's spokesman confirmed on Sunday that the former British prime minister had visited Moammar Gadhafi in Libya in the months before the Lockerbie bomber was freed from jail, but insisted there was no impropriety in the contacts.
The Sunday Telegraph said it had found letters and emails which showed Blair, who left office in 2007, had visited Gaddafi in June 2008 and April 2009, once using the then Libyan leader's jets and bringing along an American billionaire.
The paper said Blair, prime minister for 10 years until 2007, had made no mention of the trips on his websites.
Blair's visits came ahead of the release from Scottish prison of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a Libyan who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
At the time of Blair's visits, Tripoli was threatening to cut business links with Britain if Megrahi, a former Libyan agent, was not released, the Telegraph added.
Blair's spokesman said the trips were not a secret, and there had been nothing untoward about them.
"The subjects of the conversations during Mr. Blair's occasional visits was primarily Africa, as Libya was for a time head of the African Union; but also the Middle East and how Libya should reform and open up," his spokesman said.
"Of course the Libyans, as they always did, raised Megrahi. Mr. Blair explained, as he always did, in office and out of it, that it was not a decision for the U.K. government but for the Scottish executive."
Megrahi was freed by Scottish authorities, which operate a criminal justice system independent of London, on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after doctors said he had terminal cancer and had just three months to live.
The move angered the U.S. government and relatives of the 189 Americans killed in the bombing. Megrahi is still alive more than two years later. Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, has always said London was not involved in the Scottish decision.
"These new meetings between Mr. Blair and Gadhafi are disturbing, and details of what was discussed should now be made public," Pam Dix, whose brother was one of those killed, told the Telegraph. "I am astonished Tony Blair continued to have meetings like this out of office."
Some U.S. politicians have accused Britain of allowing trade interests to take precedence over justice in the release of Megrahi. The Scottish authorities have denied this repeatedly .
The correspondence that the Telegraph found said Blair had been accompanied on one trip by Tim Collins, a U.S. billionaire financier and friend of the former prime minister.
Blair's spokesman confirmed this but said no business deals had ever been discussed.
"Tony Blair has never had any role, either formal or informal, paid or unpaid, with the Libyan Investment Authority or the government of Libya and he has no commercial relationship with any Libyan company or entity," he said.
While in office, Blair oversaw a renewal of British ties with Libya, arguing that Gadhafi's foreign policy had changed after decades of sponsoring terrorism and opposing the West.
Since the uprising against Gadhafi began this year, British newspapers have frequently reprinted old photographs of the two men shaking hands and embracing during Blair's visit to Libya as prime minister.
Blair has repeatedly defended his role in rehabilitating Gadhafi, who promised after the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the United States to abandon banned weapons programs and help the West track down militants.
"I always say to people it is absolutely simple. The external policy of Libya had changed," Blair told Reuters in an interview this month. "The trouble was, in the end they weren't prepared to reform internally."
Blair says he spoke to Gadhafi this year early in the Libyan uprising and urged him to step down.
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