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British lawmaker blasts U.S. on Iraq allegations

British lawmaker George Galloway, testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, fiercely rejected allegations that he profited from the U.N.'s Iraq oil-for-food program and ripped into the Republican-led Congress.
/ Source: The Associated Press

British lawmaker George Galloway vehemently rejected a Senate subcommittee’s claim that Saddam Hussein awarded him lucrative allocations under the U.N. oil-for-food program and accused its chairman of maligning his good name.

The subcommittee, chaired by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, claimed that Galloway allegedly funneled allocations through a fund he established in 1998 to help a 4-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from leukemia and received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003.

“I am not now nor have I ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf,” Galloway said. “I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and American governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas.”

The daylong hearing was reviewing three major reports from the subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, which studied in great detail how Saddam made billions in illegal oil sales despite U.N. sanctions imposed in 1991 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Allegations flyColeman said Galloway and others who received oil allocations, including prominent Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, then paid kickbacks to Saddam as part of the deal. He claimed that Saddam received more than $300,000 in surcharges on allocations involving Galloway.

“Senior Hussein regime officials informed the subcommittee that the allocation holders — in this case, Galloway — were ultimately responsible for the surcharge payment and therefore would have known of the illegal, under-the-table payment,” he said.

Galloway rejected that and accused Coleman of never having contacted him about the charges. He also defended his opposition to the U.N. sanctions and the U.S.-led Iraq war.

“I gave my heart and soul to stop you from committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq,” Galloway said. “And I told the world that the case for war was a pack of lies.”

The oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996-2003, was designed to let Saddam’s government sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods to help the Iraqi people cope with crippling U.N. sanctions.

Saddam's back doorBut Saddam peddled influence by awarding favored politicians, journalists and others vouchers for oil that could then be resold at a profit. He also smuggled oil to Turkey, Jordan and Syria outside the program, often with the explicit approval of the United States and the rest of the U.N. Security Council.

As well as pointing the finger at politicians from Britain, France and Russia, committee investigators also argue that a Texas-based oil company, Bayoil, was involved in Saddam’s oil-for-food schemes. U.N. Security Council members including the United States often looked the other way, they said.

“On the one hand, the United States was at the U.N. trying to stop Iraq from imposing illegal surcharges on oil-for-food contacts,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said at the start of the hearing. “On the other hand, the U.S. ignored red flags that some U.S. companies might be paying those same illegal surcharges.”

Detailed chargesWhile many of the oil-for-food claims are not new, rarely have the allegations been spelled out with so much detail or scope. Coleman’s investigators have interviewed former top Iraqi officials and businessmen, who provided a behind-the-scenes look at how Saddam’s grand scheme worked.

Coleman’s committee also alleges that former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua received allocations worth 11 million barrels from 1999 to 2000.

Documents released Monday by the minority Democrats on Coleman’s subcommittee examined two issues: Bayoil’s involvement in oil-for-food and a single instance that saw Saddam’s regime smuggle more than 7 million barrels of oil out of the Iraqi port of Khor al-Amaya, apparently with U.S. knowledge, in the weeks before the invasion in 2003.

U.S. linkThe report found that Bayoil imported some 200 million barrels over two years starting in September 2000 and sold it to U.S. oil companies. That was at a time when Saddam was trying to tinker with the price of oil so that when he sold it, companies could be compelled to pay him kickbacks.

The report claimed that Bayoil paid “directly or indirectly” some $37 million in kickbacks to Saddam even at a time that the United States and other members of the council had realized what Saddam was doing and began ordering price hikes to quash the kickbacks scheme.

Bayoil then sold the crude to U.S. companies, though there is no evidence the companies knew about the kickbacks, the report said.