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 Sunday, May 15, 2005

Showdown in Washington: British MP versus the US Senate Sub-Committee


British Member of Parliament George Galloway arrives in Washington DC for his date with Norm Coleman, US Jewish Republican Chairman of the US Senate Sub-committee investigating the Iraqi Oil-For-Food scandal.

Coleman, last week accused Galloway, the newly-elected member for Bethnal Green and Bow, of profiting from illegal oil contracts.

Galloway vehemently denies the claims and in typically robust style declared he would fly to the US to confront the senators on their own turf.

The American media can hardly wait.

It’s not often a foreign politician strays into the Senate bearpit, where presidents have been humbled.

What makes it pure theatre is that Galloway has volunteered to be skewered by the 13-man committee, live on TV.

The understated grandeur of Room 562 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill could be where Coleman reputation as a fearless investigator is cemented.
Galloway is frustrated that the senate committee report is issued under privilege, so there is no legal redress. His only hope is to ridicule them.
The accusation being made by the US senate committee is essentially the same one that Galloway faced from the Daily Telegraph in 2003 and which he won with £150,000 of damages.

Galloway seems convinced that he will have his day if not in court, then before the world’s press, to finally clear his name of the allegations that have dogged him ever since Saddam’s regime fell two years ago.

It is a gamble which he likens to Daniel entering the Lions’ Den with, he hopes, a similar outcome, but it is also an opportunity for his detractors to prove his guilt.

Iraqi Oil-For-Food Scandal

During Saddam Hussein's time, Iraq was forbidden to sell its rich reserves of oil on the international market following the sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the first conflict.

But with the sanctions taking their toll on the Iraqi population, which was facing a humanitarian disaster, UN officials came up with a plan whereby the country could sell limited oil supplies to buy food and medicines for its sick and starving people.

The regime was alleged to have siphoned off more than £1 billion of the proceeds to both prop up the government and buy influence among foreign politicians or journalists who showed their support for the end of the crippling sanctions.

UN officials seconded to the programme were tasked with ensuring that only legitimate oil traders received the lucrative contracts to sell Iraqi oil.

In reality, a secret unit within the Oil Ministry, headed by a vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, diverted supplies to regime supporters.

According to the US Senate investigators last week, Ramadan’s committee had full freedom to decide which companies and individuals were to be illicitly given the contracts, in the form of oil "vouchers."

Each voucher, for up to 10 million barrels, was made out in the name of a company but internal ministry documents - recovered after the 2003 Iraq war - also reveal the names of supposed individual recipients in brackets.

The recipients are believed to have both enriched themselves and passed some of the handsome profits back to the Saddam regime. All this could be done, according to earlier Senate reports, without any of the recipients ever being in contact with a barrel of oil.

A US Senate report states that Saddam regime, instead of granting allocations to traditional oil purchasers, gave priority to foreign officials, journalists, and even terrorist entities, "to engender international support for the Hussein regime and against the UN’s sanctions".

Accusation Against Galloway

The US Senate investigation accused Galloway, an anti-sanctions campaigner, as one of the recipients both individually and through a company owned by Fawaz Zureikat, a wealthy Jordanian businessman. Zureikat met Galloway through his Palestinian wife on one of his trips to Iraq in the 1990s.

Zureikat became chairman and financial supporter of the "Mariam appeal" set up by Galloway to get medical treatment in Scotland for a 5-year-old Iraqi girl with leukaemia, Mariam Hamza, while at the same time highlighting the effect the UN sanctions were having on medical supplies in Iraq.

The Mariam Appeal paid for Galloway to make five visits to Iraq, two to America and one each to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Belgium and Romania, as it diverted down a more political route.

Coleman’s senate investigators now believe that both Galloway and Zureikat were involved in the oil-for-food scam and were using the humanitarian appeal as a cover for their activities.

Their report states:

"Galloway may have used the charitable organisation to conceal payments from the oil allocation he had received from the Hussein regime."

On the face of it, the case against the MP and the businessman is clear.

The Evidence Against Galloway
  • The committee’s report is based upon documents which purport to come from the Iraqi Oil Ministry and interview testimony from senior Iraqi politicians including, but not limited to, former Vice President Ramadan, who was interviewed by the committee’s investigators on April 18th this year, and an interview three days later with former Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

  • Ramadan told the committee that Galloway had been granted the oil allocation "because of his opinions about Iraq".

  • Interviews conducted last year by the US Treasury’s Iraqi Financial Asset Team quoted one of Saddam’s officials as being "aware that Galloway received an oil allowance of over three million barrels... Galloway used a foreign company to broker the sale of oil allowances. The name of the company was Middle East Semi-Conducting Company (MESSC), owned and managed by Fawaz Zureiqat."

  • Another company - Aredio Petroleum - is also linked to Zureikat and Galloway. Zureikat’s signature is present on contracts for which the investigations committee has produced documentary evidence. For instance, one contract, M/11/04, dated December 12, 2001 is for three million barrels of oil, worth approximately €66m. The contract is signed, according to a letter to the Iraqi oil minister from Ali Rajab Hassan, Acting Executive Director of the State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO), by "Middle East ASI Company (Mr George Galloway)/Fawaz Zuraiqat."
  • Another contract, numbered M/09/23 and dated the 13th of January 2001, details the sale of two million barrels of Basrah light crude oil and one million barrels of Kirkuk oil to the "Aredio Petroleum Company (Farwaz Zuraiqat - Mariam’s Appeal.)" The contract agreement is initialled by the Iraqi Oil Minister and states that the oil, worth about €64m, was destined for the United States, Europe and the East. A surcharge - or kickback - payable to the Iraqis for the right to operate the contract is "payable within one month from the date of loading each shipment."
  • The entry for contract M/9/23 indicates that the contract was executed with ‘Mr Fawaz Zuraiqat/George Galloway/Aredio Petroleum - French’. This SOMO document, the report claims, "shows that the allocation for Contract M/9/23 was not just for Mariam’s Appeal, but also for George Galloway."
  • Another document makes what the report terms "a more direct link between the oil underlying Aredio’s January 2001 contract and George Galloway". That document is "a chart created after the fall of the Hussein regime entitled, ‘Crude Oil Allocations during Phase 9 of the Memorandum of Understanding’".
  • The Zureikat connection emerged last January when a Baghad newspaper reported a list of 270 alleged recipients of oil vouchers, based on oil ministry documents. It is these documents on which the Senate allegations against Galloway are based, along with information extracted from Ramadan and other Iraqi officials.

    Galloway Denies Charges

    Galloway is insistent that the allegations in the Senate report are false and that neither he nor anyone else on his behalf has ever traded in oil.

    His spokesman said:

    "George’s defence will simply be that these allegations are a tissue of lies. There is no evidence whatsoever that he benefited from selling Iraqi oil. The only evidence against him is that someone has typed his name on bits of paper.

    A lot of this seems to be based on the word of Ramadan and other senior officials who have been held by the Americans for a long time.

    These are the people who, we were told, were lying over weapons of mass destruction. Now we are told that we ought to believe them.

    This is nothing more than a stitch-up, which is why George is going to the Senate to appear before the committee on Tuesday."

    To Galloway it is part of the pattern which has seen international opponents of the Gulf War vilified in the US as part of what he sees as a Republican party agenda to justify military intervention.

    Certainly, no-one as yet has been able to make the accusations stick.

    The key allegations against Galloway are not new and first surfaced in the Daily Telegraph in April, 2003, following the fall of Baghdad.

    Documents recovered by one of the newspaper’s reporters from a looted office block claimed the MP had personally profited from Iraqi oil deals during the oil-for-food programme. Galloway sued the Telegraph for libel and in December won his High Court case resoundingly with a £150,000 damages award. The newspaper group is currently appealing against the verdict.

    Zureikat has also denied the allegations. He issued a statement:

    "This is an old story without a shred of truth to it.

    There is no connection between me or my company and George Galloway and he certainly did not receive any money or benefits from me.

    Our link is the Mariam Appeal and anti-sanctions activities. And like Mr Galloway I have never been approached by this committee to tell them the truth and put an end to these slanderous allegations."

    Galloway was particularly angry that the committee had published its allegations without giving him any chance to study its evidence or interviewing him first. He will also accuse the senators of being manipulated by US intelligence, since its main Iraqi witnesses, including former Iraqi ministers, are all in US custody.

    Norm Coleman

    Image hosted by Norm Coleman, who is Jewish, is part of a band of Republican hawks that has UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in its sights after his declaration last year that the war against Iraq was illegal.

    By picking off the smaller players, the committee hopes it will uncover a bigger picture of complicity that will lead to the very top of the UN.

    An article by Wayne Madsen, commented:

    "Coleman, with pro-AIPAC Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, is using the Senate Permanent Sub-committee on Investigations to rehash charges that foreign and even U.S. officials financially benefited from the United Nations' Oil for Food program.

    These charges, which later were proven false, first surfaced in the neoconservative controlled London-based Daily Telegraph, owned by the Hollinger Corporation, a company that had financial ties to arch-neoconservative Richard Perle.

    The charges by both the Daily Telegraph and now Coleman's committee are based on documents as bogus as the Niger yellowcake documents and those proffered by Curveball and Chalabi about Iraq's fantasized weapons of mass destruction.

    Galloway successfully sued the Telegraph for libel over its baseless Oil for Food allegations against him.

    What has Coleman's panties in a twist is the fact that in the recent British elections, Galloway, who was expelled from the Labor Party for his anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush politics, made easy work of his Labor Party opponent and Tony Blair sycophant, Oona King, an African-Jewish daughter of—ironically—an African-American draft evader from the Vietnam War.

    King was one of Tony Blair's most ardent supporters for his decision to join Bush in a genocidal war against Iraq. For that, she earned the support of the international neoconservative network of influence holders and peddlers that can, according to a senior Bush administration official, create their own reality because of their ownership of much of the international media.

    However, King also earned the enmity of her large Muslim constituency in East London's Bethnal Green and Bow district. They rejected King and threw their political weight behind Galloway.

    George Galloway

    Image hosted by
    Born in 1954 in Dundee, George Galloway was educated at the city’s Harris Academy. As a councillor in his home town, he played a key role in the controversial twinning of the city with the West Bank town of Nablus.

    By 26 he was the youngest ever chairman of the Scottish Labour Party and in 1987 defeated the Liberal-SDP MP Roy Jenkins in Glasgow Hillhead.

    He was expelled from Labour in October 2003 in the wake of his comments on the second Iraq war.

    Last December, he won £150,000 in libel damages from the Daily Telegraph over stories claiming he received money from Saddam’s regime.

    Galloway’s remarkable career then took another twist at this month’s election when he won a shock victory for the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow for his new-found party, Respect. Galloway defeated sitting Labour candidate Oona King to capture the supposedly safe Labour seat of Bethnal Green and Bow for his anti-war party, Respect.
    His election followed an intense, bitter campaign which divided the local area, where four in ten residents are Muslim.

    When the result was declared, Galloway called for Tony Blair to be sacked. Addressing Tony Blair, he said: "This defeat is for Iraq. All the people you have killed, all the lies you have told have come back to haunt you."

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