WASHINGTON – British lawmaker George Galloway denounced U.S. senators on their home turf Tuesday, denying accusations that he profited from the U.N. oil-for-food program and accusing them of unfairly tarnishing his name.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., questioned Galloway’s honesty and told reporters, “If in fact he lied to this committee, there will have to be consequences.”
Galloway’s appearance was an odd spectacle on Capitol Hill: A legislator from a friendly nation, voluntarily testifying under oath, without immunity, at a combative congressional hearing where neither side showed much pretense of diplomatic niceties.
“Now, I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer, you’re remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice,” Galloway told Coleman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigation subcommittee.
He then accused Coleman of maligning his name before giving him a chance to defend himself and of using the oil-for-food investigation to hide the failures of U.S. policies in
“Senator, this is the mother of all smoke screens,” he said.
The panel is one of several congressional committees investigating allegations that
Saddam Hussein manipulated the $64 billion oil-for-food program to get kickbacks and build international opposition to U.N. sanctions against Iraq imposed after Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The program was created as an exception to the sanctions, allowing Saddam to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food and other humanitarian items.
Coleman’s panel last week released documents that it says shows that Galloway and other international figures received valuable oil allocations from Saddam to reward them for their opposition to sanctions. The allocations could be resold for a profit. Among the officials identified besides Galloway were former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, both of whom denied wrongdoing.
Coleman’s subcommittee claimed that Galloway funneled allocations through the Mariam Appeal — 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. Coleman also alleged that Galloway was linked to kickbacks to Saddam, saying the Iraqi leader received more than $300,000 in surcharges on allocations involving Galloway.
Galloway vehemently rejected the accusations.
“You have nothing on me, senator, except my name on lists of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Baghdad,” he said.
He said that Coleman’s panel based some of its accusations on the same fake documents used by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which he sued for libel and won a $1.4 million libel judgment. The committee says it used different documents.
Coleman pressed Galloway on his relationship with Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat. Galloway described Zureikat as the second largest contributor to the Mariam Appeal, while congressional investigators consider him Galloway’s intermediary in receiving oil proceeds.
Asked if he knew that Zureikat was involved in oil deals with Iraq in 2001, Galloway said he knew Zureikat was doing extensive business in Iraq, but didn’t know the details.
When Coleman reacted skeptically, Galloway told him, “There are lots of contributors to your political campaign funds. I don’t suppose you ask any of them how they made the money they give you.”
Galloway also said it was “beyond the realm of the ridiculous” that he would give $300,000 in kickbacks to Saddam.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, both Coleman and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record) of Michigan, questioned Galloway’s credibility. Asked if Galloway violated his oath to tell the truth before the committee, Coleman said, “I don’t know. We’ll have to look over the record.”
Galloway has been an outspoken opponent of both Iraq wars and of the U.N. sanctions, which he said were killing innocent Iraqis. He was expelled from Prime Minister
Tony Blair’s Labour Party after urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq. Galloway was recently re-elected to Parliament this month as a representative of his own anti-Iraq war Respect party.