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Inside Politics

British MP denies oil-for-food charges

Called the probe the 'mother of all smokescreens'




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British Parliament member George Galloway appears Tuesday before a Senate panel.
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A British lawmaker says charges against him are "a pack of lies."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- British Member of Parliament George Galloway angrily denied Tuesday that he profited from Saddam Hussein's regime and criticized a Senate panel probing alleged corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.

Galloway, an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, called the panel's investigation the "mother of all smokescreens" used to divert attention from the "pack of lies" that led to the 2003 invasion.

"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001," he told the panel's Republican chairman, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives -- 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies, 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever, on a pack of lies."

He added, "Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported."

Galloway's appearance Tuesday before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee was the first by an official allegedly involved in the scandal.

In a report last week, the subcommittee stated that deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein granted Galloway vouchers for 20 million barrels of oil between 2000 and 2003.

He strongly disputed that allegation Tuesday.

"I am not now or ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf," Galloway testified.

He also said he did not own a company that trades in oil.

"If you had any evidence of that I had ever engaged in any actual oil transaction, if you had any evidence that anybody ever gave me any money, it would be before the public and before this" committee today, Galloway said.

Coleman, a former district attorney, told Galloway before his sworn testimony that "senior Iraqi officials have confirmed that you, in fact, received oil allocations and that the documents that identify you as an allocation recipient are valid."

Galloway challenged that accusation in his opening statement.

"Now, I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer, you're remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice," he told Coleman.

Galloway, 51, is a leading critic of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his alliance with President Bush in the war in Iraq. He was re-elected on an antiwar platform earlier this month.

He said he was "friendly" with former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and met him many times but that he met with Saddam only twice in his career -- in 1994 and in 2002 -- the last time to persuade Saddam to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into the country.

He said he had met with Saddam "exactly as many times as Donald Rumsfeld has met with him."

"The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and give him maps," Galloway said in a heated opening statement.

"I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second occasion, I met him to try and persuade him to allow Hans Blix and U.N. inspectors back into country,"

Rumsfeld visited Baghdad to meet Saddam as President Reagan's Middle East envoy in the 1980s, when the U.S. sided with Iraq in its war with Iran. Blix was chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq before the war.

Galloway complained that the panel had determined his guilt without speaking to him.

"You have my name on lists provided to you... by the convicted bank robber and fraudster and con man Ahmed Chalabi, who many people, to their credit, in your country now realize played a decisive role in leading your country into the disaster in Iraq," Galloway told the Senate panel.

Other allegations reportedly came from Iraqi detainees.

"In these circumstances, knowing what the world knows about how you treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, in Bagram Air Base [Afghanistan], in Guantanamo Bay -- including, if I may say, British citizens being held in those places -- I'm not sure how much credibility anyone would put on anything you manage to get from a prisoner in those circumstances," he said.

The Senate subcommittee has alleged in recent days that a number of European politicians were rewarded by Saddam for supporting Iraq's bid to lift economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The subcommittee report, relying on Iraqi Oil Ministry documents and interviews with detained Saddam loyalists, alleged that Galloway received allocations for 20 million barrels from June 2000 to June 2003 and arranged for two companies, Aredio Petroleum-France and Middle East Advanced Semiconductor Inc., to take delivery of the crude.

Galloway said he never heard of Aredio, but confirmed that the president of Middle East ASI, Jordanian businessman named Fawaz Zureikat, was a good friend and the second-biggest benefactor of a British charity he started called Mariam's Appeal.

Zureikat donated about $600,000. A British probe of the charity "found no impropriety" in fund-raising, Galloway said.

"He may have signed an oil contract. It had nothing to do with me," Galloway said. "I was aware he was doing extensive business with Iraq. I did not know the details of it. It was not my business."

Europeans implicated

In addition to Galloway, the panel also implicated former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, who allegedly was allocated 11 million barrels.

"I wrote to Mr. Coleman," Pasqua said Sunday, "and I told him that all allegations about myself are false."

Russian Deputy Parliament Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was accused Monday of receiving 76 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil, denied the accusation.

"I've never signed any contract and never received a cent from Iraq," Zhirinovsky told a Russian TV interviewer.

Oil ended up in U.S.

The panels seem to agree that three-quarters of the oil Iraq was permitted to export under oil-for-food ended up in the United States, though U.S. firms directly purchased less than 1 percent of the crude.

A new report from Democrats on the Senate subcommittee concludes the United States ended up with a majority of the oil lifted from Iraq after vendors paid illicit surcharges of 10 cents to 30 cents a barrel to Saddam.

Investigators have estimated Saddam pocketed at least $2 billion by extorting the surcharges and kickbacks on humanitarian goods purchased.

While oil-for-food was operating from 1996 to 2003, Saddam got to choose the buyers of 3.4 billion barrels of oil that sold for $64 billion.

The oil revenue went into a U.N.-controlled bank account that doled out money for U.N.-approved sales of food, medicine and supplies to Iraq.

The illicit surcharges were typically wired into Iraq-controlled bank accounts in Lebanon, Oman and an Iraqi-front company in the United Arab Emirates, or paid in cash to Iraqi embassies and flown to Baghdad.

Of the $228 million in surcharged oil, the Democratic report found the United States imported 525 million barrels, or 52 percent of it.

Among the biggest end users of this oil were Valero, Premcor, Alon USA, and Exxon, according to the report.

CNN's Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.


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