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Galloway slams U.S. justice as he rejects charges

By Sue Pleming

05/17/05 "Reuters"
- -WASHINGTON (Reuters) - MP George Galloway angrily rejected charges on Tuesday by the U.S. Congress that he profited from the Iraq oil-for-food program as "utterly preposterous" and blasted it for treating him unfairly.

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Far from showing the usual deference of witnesses before Congress, the Scotsman defiantly told a Senate committee its evidence against him was false, condemned its investigation and demanded to know why it had not checked with him first before making its allegations.

Galloway bluntly confronted the Republican chairman of the committee, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and challenged the attorney to back up claims the MP profited handsomely from the now defunct oil-for-food program. Some of his harshest remarks concerned Coleman's support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"Now I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer, you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice," Galloway said.

Galloway later told reporter he felt Coleman had failed in his cross-examination. "He's not much of a lyncher," he said.

Galloway appeared before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is examining how ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein used oil to reward politicians, particularly from Russia, France and Britain, under the United Nations oil-for-food program.

A maverick kicked out of the British Labour Party for his fervent opposition to the Iraq war and for personal attacks on Prime Minister Tony Blair, Galloway lashed out at the Bush administration for the Iraq invasion.

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong," he pointedly told Coleman, whom he labeled a "neo-con, pro-war hawk."

The committee last week released documents it said showed Saddam gave Galloway the rights to export 20 million barrels of oil under the defunct humanitarian program.

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, now a French senator, also was named in the Senate report, which said he got vouchers for 11 million barrels. Pasqua, who also angrily denied the allegations, was not at the hearing.

The U.N. oil-for-food program, which began in late 1996 and ended in 2003, was aimed at easing the impact of sanctions imposed after Saddam's troops invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Galloway accused Coleman of sullying his reputation and making false charges against him that he gave money to Saddam. "You call that justice?" he asked, adding later: "This is utterly preposterous."

With Galloway looking on, Senate investigators laid out their case against him and others, presenting documents they said showed he received oil allocations from Saddam Hussein's government.

Mark Greenblatt, legal counsel on the committee, told senators Galloway had used his cancer charity "Mariam's Appeal" to conceal these allocations and provided several Oil Ministry documents referring to the charity.

Greenblatt said a senior Iraqi official interviewed by the committee's investigators again in Baghdad on Monday, had confirmed allegations against Galloway and authenticated Iraqi oil ministry documents.

RUSSIAN PERSONALITIES

Baghdad was allowed to sell oil to buy basic goods and could negotiate its own contracts, but the program has been dogged by allegations of massive fraud and charges Saddam used it to buy influence in the West.

Coleman's panel also gave details about Iraqi oil allocations to Russia's presidential council, which advises President Vladimir Putin.

A report released on Monday said Saddam's government provided Putin's former chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, and the council with oil rights worth nearly $3 million in exchange for support to lift U.N. sanctions against Iraq imposed in August 1990 after Baghdad's troops invaded Kuwait.

Senate investigators said there was no evidence that Putin knew of the payments.

The committee also said 75 million barrels of oil were allocated to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist Russian parliamentarian who made frequent visits to Iraq, or his political party.

In both cases, the Houston-based firm Bayoil Inc. or its subsidiaries helped arrange transport and contracts to sell the oil in the United States and elsewhere, the report said.

Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved. 

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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