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Russian lawmaker denies oil-for-food claim

A ultranationalist Russian lawmaker  on Monday denied wrongdoing under the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ultranationalist Russian lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky on Monday denied wrongdoing under the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, saying he never received money from Baghdad or from companies that bought oil from Saddam Hussein’s government.

Zhirinovsky was responding to a U.S. Senate report alleging that he was among Russian officials and politicians who received millions of dollars in oil allocations from Saddam’s government in return for their support in ending U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

“I did not sign a single contract, I did not receive a single cent from Iraq — not a kopeck,” Zhirinovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio. He said he “never saw any Iraqi oil, not a drop.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that, in the U.S. report, “Russia is incriminated by the very fact of its participation” in the program, which was designed to let Iraq sell oil and use the proceeds to buy humanitarian items in order to ease the effects on the Iraq people of U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

U.S. accused of trying to discredit U.N.
“It is difficult to avoid the impression that the senators are trying to discredit the United Nations as a whole, pointing fingers at other countries while leaving the participation of American firms ... outside the brackets,” the ministry said in a statement.

“It would be more logical for them to attend to seeking violations in their own country,” it added.

Zhirinovsky said he used his close ties with Saddam’s government to steer Iraqi oil to Russian companies but claimed he was motivated by patriotism and received no compensation for helping with introductions to Iraqi officials.

“I got no (money) from either side,” said Zhirinovsky, who estimated that he visited Iraq some 15 times a year before his last trip in 2002. He said he had helped Russian companies because “I was the most acceptable person for Iraq.”

A report released Monday by the investigations subcommittee for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs said Zhirinovsky received Iraqi oil allocations worth $8.7 million under the oil-for-food program.

Saddam accused of currying favor
The program was designed to let Saddam’s government sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian items to ease the effects on the Iraq people of U.N. sanctions imposed after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to the 1991 Gulf War.

Saddam is widely accused of using oil vouchers that allowed the bearer to buy Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices to curry favor with countries holding veto power in the U.N. Security Council — France, Britain, China, Russia and the United States. The Senate subcommittee said about 30 percent of the oil sold in the program was allocated to Russia.

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, also accused by U.S. lawmakers of involvement in corruption in the oil-for-food program, denied the allegations and said he was caught in the crossfire of what he called an American campaign against France, which opposed the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam.

“I have never been to Iraq. I have never met Mr. Saddam Hussein. I never received anything from the Iraqis, in any domain,” Pasqua said at a news conference in Paris. “If my name appears on documents as having benefited from allocations, it can only be the result of fraudulent behavior committed by certain people who used my name.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate committee presented what it said was evidence that Pasqua and British lawmaker George Galloway got oil allocations from Saddam in return for backing his regime and its campaign against U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

British lawmaker to defend self before Senate
Galloway planned to defend himself at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

“The truth is, I have never bought or sold a drop of oil from Iraq, or sold or bought a drop of oil from anybody,” Galloway told the British Broadcasting Corp. before boarding a flight at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Zhirinovsky denied providing political or diplomatic support for Iraq in exchange for oil deals, calling the idea “absurd” and saying he always had opposed the U.N. sanctions. Zhirinovsky has been a Russian parliament member for more than a decade but was never in the government.

The U.S. report said the Russian Presidential Council — led by Alexander Voloshin, former chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin — received oil allocations worth more than $16 million, according to Iraq’s oil ministry. Voloshin could not be reached for comment.

Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said Russian authorities have seen no evidence of violations by Russian companies or individuals in the oil-for-food program. Zhirinovsky pointed out that it allowed Iraq to decide whom to sell oil.

The Senate report said Zhirinovsky on six occasions sold oil allotments to the Texas oil company Bayoil, whose owner, David B. Chalmers, has been indicted on charges related to the U.N. program. While Zhirinovsky said he had no commercial involvement in deals related to oil-for-food, he did not expressly deny a connection to Bayoil.

With Saddam favoring Russia, France and China, U.S. oil companies courted companies from those countries as they sought Iraqi oil, he said.

Bayoil “could have received oil through somebody,” he said. “But what link is there to me here?”