UNITED NATIONS — A U.S. Senate committee probing corruption in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program released new evidence purporting to show that two prominent politicians from Britain and France received millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for their support of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Citing contracts, letters and interviews with former Iraqi leaders, the probe set out evidence Wednesday to back the claim that British lawmaker George Galloway and former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua accepted oil allocations under the scheme.
Galloway and Pasqua have denied any wrongdoing in the Oil-for-Food program.
“This report exposes how Saddam Hussein turned the oil-for-food program on its head and used the program to reward his political allies like Pasqua and Galloway,” Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman (search), chairman of the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, said in a statement.
The Oil-for-Food program was designed to let Saddam’s government sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods to help the Iraqi people cope with U.N. sanctions imposed in 1991 following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
But Saddam manipulated the $64 billion program to earn illegal revenues and peddle influence, by awarding former government officials, activists, U.N. officials and journalists vouchers for Iraqi oil that could then be resold at a profit.
Coleman’s committee said Pasqua had received allocations worth 11 million barrels from 1999 to 2000, and Galloway received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003.
The allegations against Pasqua and Galloway, both outspoken opponents of U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, have been made before, including in a report last October by U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer.
But Coleman’s report provided several new details. It also included information from interviews with former high-ranking officials now in U.S. custody, including former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.
Among the claims: New evidence suggests that a children’s leukemia charity founded by Galloway was in fact used to conceal oil payments.
Coleman claimed Saddam also approved Pasqua’s allocations himself. The report cites Ramadan as saying in an interview that Galloway was allocated oil “because of his opinions about Iraq.”
On Thursday morning in Britain, Galloway, who was re-elected to Parliament in the national election last week as a representative of his own anti-war Respect party, denied the report’s claims.
Galloway described the Senate committee as a “lickspittle Republican committee, acting on the wishes of George Bush.”
“Let me repeat. I have never traded in a barrel of oil, or any vouchers for it,” he said in a written statement. “And no one has acted on my behalf, trading in oil — Middle Eastern, olive, patchouli or any other — or in vouchers, whatever they are.”
Galloway said he had sent letters and e-mails asking to appear before the Senate committee to provide evidence and deny their claims, but had not received a response.
The flamboyant Galloway, nicknamed “Gorgeous George” by the British press for his expensive suits, pugnacious manner and far-left politics, defeated a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party and strong supporter of the Iraq war, Oona King, in a largely Muslim district of East London.
Reached late Wednesday, aides to Pasqua refused to comment.
The report includes what Coleman said was a copy of a contract from Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization that mentions Mariam’s Appeal, a fund Galloway established in 1998 to help a 4-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from leukemia, Mariam Hamze.
It says the fund may have been used to conceal the transfer of 3 million barrels of oil.
Coleman’s subcommittee said the evidence it found against Galloway was different from documents reported in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in April 2003 alleging that he took money from Saddam’s regime.
Galloway filed a libel suit over the story and won $1.4 million from the Daily Telegraph last year. Galloway also accepted undisclosed damages and a public apology from the Christian Science Monitor over an article it published alleging he took money from Saddam’s regime. That report was based on documents that later proved to be forgeries.
As for Pasqua, the report claims the State Oil Marketing Organization wrangled with one of his aides over the best way to deliver oil allocations to him.
SOMO wanted it done through a French company, but Pasqua’s aide, Bernard Guillet, insisted it be done through a Swiss company called Genmar (search), Coleman’s committee said. The organization requested a letter to that effect.
“According to SOMO, Guillet refused to send such a letter, explaining that ‘they cannot do that fearing political scandals,'” the report said.
Genmar was eventually approved and SOMO went on to allocate millions of barrels of oil to it, Coleman claimed.
The report said Guillet received 5 million barrels. Guillet is currently under investigation in France for suspected influence-peddling and receiving misappropriated funds.
Coleman’s subcommittee is one of several U.S. congressional bodies investigating allegations of wrongdoing in Oil-for-Food.