30 JANUARY 2002
Shopkeeper Tony Gauci certainly got more than he had bargained for when he made a sale to a certain Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi back in 1988. Now, UK papers are claiming, he might be the downfall of the Lockerbie trial prosecutions case.
The Maltese Lockerbie key witness, whose evidence had helped to convict the Lockerbie bomber, is under a bright spotlight after having disclosed he had enjoyed lavish trips to Scotland with top notch hospitality organised by police officers.
Secret tape recordings obtained by the UKs The Mail on Sunday, reveal witness Tony Gauci boasting about being taken from his home in Malta to Scotland by police for fishing, hill walking and bird-watching trips.
The Mail on Sunday had been given the tapes by a Scottish undercover investigator who was recently in Malta and secretly taped conversations with Gauci, owner of now famous Mary's House clothes shop in Sliema, and a Strathclyde Police officer apparently based in Malta.
On the tapes Gauci claimed he had been taken to Scotland by police on five or six occasions since the bombing.
Some weeks after the plane fell on the small Scottish town, he says he was taken there to be shown the devastation - a highly unusual move as the Scottish justice system frowns upon taking a witness to a crime scene before a trial.
Gauci also said that the hospitality of the Scottish police was also extended to four other members of his family and on the tapes he talks of being taken into the mountains, visiting the Aviemore ski resort, fly-fishing for salmon and bird-watching.
Furthermore, on at least one occasion he has stayed at the luxury GBP150-anight Hilton Hotel in Glasgow.
Speaking to this newspaper on Monday, The Mail on Sunday said it believes that Gauci is currently in Scotland under an assumed name, as a trip was being prepared for him when the investigator, a former detective, left Malta two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, MP Tam Dalyell, said yesterday he wanted the government to respond to reports that police had organised holidays for Gauci in Scotland.
Robert Black, professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, said the matter of Gauci's trips would now have to be fully investigated during Megrahi's appeal.
Gauci's contribution to the trial was central to Megrahi's conviction. His co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, walked free while Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum recommendation of 20 years.
The key difference was that in Fhimah's case, no credible witness existed to give a firsthand account of incriminating conduct.
The remains of clothes bought from Gauci's shop were found in the suitcase containing the bomb and the shopkeeper is the only person to have positively identified Megrahi, linking him directly to the outrage.