Skip to comments.British antiwar critic denies claims he took aid from Iraq regime
Posted on 04/22/2003 2:32:25 PM PDT by UnklGene
NEWS STORY British antiwar critic denies claims he took aid money from Iraqi regime
KEVIN WARD Canadian Press
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
LONDON -- One of Britain's most colourful antiwar critics was accused Tuesday of receiving aid money from Saddam Hussein's regime, prompting a Labour party inquiry and boisterous denials from the MP at the centre of the scandal.
The Daily Telegraph said it found files in the burned and looted Iraqi Foreign Ministry in Baghdad that show George Galloway received at least 375,000 pounds ($852,000 Cdn) a year from Iraq through the United Nations oil-for-food-program. Galloway, an outspoken critic of UN sanctions against Iraq, described the newspaper report as a "smear campaign" aimed at opponents of the war.
"I have never solicited nor received money from Iraq for our campaign against war and sanctions," he said in a statement.
Galloway said his anti-sanctions campaign - the Mariam appeal initially set up in 1998 to help an Iraqi girl with leukemia - was funded largely by the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and by Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat.
The Labour party backbencher has been a frequent critic of Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, known for his withering attacks on his party leader on a variety of public policy matters, not just the war with Iraq.
Leading up to the war, he described U.S. President George W. Bush as a "semi-imbecile, bogus, born-again fundamentalist."
As he campaigned against sanctions, Galloway became a regular visitor to Iraq, with many television news programs showing video of Galloway smiling and shaking hands with Saddam.
"Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability," he says to Saddam in one piece of videotape from 1994.
His defence of Iraq led his parliamentary colleagues to dub him "the Member for Baghdad Central" and has often put him at odds with members of cabinet.
At a recent parliamentary committee meeting, Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw was forced to apologize after he called Galloway "not just an apologist but a mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime over many years."
The 48-year-old Glasgow MP, who seems to relish verbal sparring matches with his political opponents, said he would sue the Telegraph for libel.
"Without having seen the Telegraph's documents, from the way they have been described to me I can state that they bear all the hallmarks of having been either forged or doctored and are designed to discredit those who stood against the war," he said.
The Telegraph published three pictures of the documents it found; two in Arabic and one in English from Galloway's office. It translated the Arabic documents into English.
One reportedly outlines Galloway's financial dealings with the regime. A second document, written by Tariq Aziz, deputy prime minister and acting foreign minister, includes details of what it calls Galloway's "work" program for 2000.
The third letter from Galloway certifies that Zureikat is his representative in Baghdad when it comes to work on the Mariam appeal.
The Daily Telegraph said it stood by its story and the journalist who found the papers said he believes they are genuine.
"We just went and purely by chance we stumbled across this room which had these files in it, and again purely by chance we came across these files which carried the label Britain," David Blair told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"I think it would require an enormous amount of imagination to believe that someone went to the trouble of composing a forged document in Arabic and then planting it in a file of patently authentic documents and burying it in a darkened room on the off-chance that a British journalist might happen upon it and might bother to translate it."
In its story, the newspaper said it found a memo to Saddam from the Iraqi intelligence service saying Galloway, in a meeting with an agent on Boxing Day in 1999, had asked for a larger slice of Iraq's oil exports under the UN program intended to reduce humanitarian suffering after the 1990 Gulf War.
The memo, dated Jan. 3, 2000, said Galloway received between 10 and 15 cents from each barrel of three million barrels of oil sold every six months under the aid program.
Galloway, who called the allegations "black propaganda" and "intelligence hocus pocus" on BBC radio, said that to the best of his knowledge, he has never met anyone from Iraq's intelligence agency.
"I have never seen a barrel of oil, never owned one, never bought one, never sold one," he added.
Labour party chairman Ian McCartney called the allegations "extremely serious" as he launched an investigation.
But in Glasgow, the chairman of the Labour party in Galloway's constituency rallied to the MP's defence and warned against any move to expel him from the party unless it has "cast-iron evidence" against him.
"I think it is the latest in a long line of smears to try to stop the work that George has been doing," said Mark Craig.