US approves Iraq trade by man named as Galloway middleman

The Jordanian businessman accused of passing oil money from Saddam Hussein to George Galloway has revealed that he is once again trading in Iraq and making trips to America with the approval of the US authorities.

Fawaz Zureikat was speaking publicly for the first time since he was named by a US Senate investigative committee examining the United Nations oil-for-food programme. He told The Independent that neither the new government in Baghdad nor US officials had raised any objections to him renewing his trade with Iraq.

Mr Galloway, the new MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, will face his accusers in Washington today as he defends himself against claims that he received vouchers for 20 million barrels of oil from Saddam.

The outspoken, anti-war Respect MP said he will give the 13-strong Republican-led committee "both barrels". He vowed to clear his name as he left Heathrow: "The truth is I have never bought or sold a drop of oil from Iraq, or sold or bought a drop of oil from anybody.

"If I had I would be a very rich man and the person who made me rich would already be in the public domain," he said.

"I am going to accuse them of being involved in a huge diversion from the real issues in Iraq, which are the theft of billions of dollars worth of Iraq's wealth by the United States of America and its corporations, and the deaths of more than 100,000 people in Iraq."

Mr Zureikat agreed: "The reason for these claims is obvious. They are throwing this up to take attention away from all the violence going on in Iraq and because George has just got back into Parliament."

The Jordanian Christian said he had never been questioned about his alleged role in the oil-for-food affair or about Mr Galloway.

US diplomatic sources confirmed yesterday that Mr Zureikat has been granted visas to visit the US since the war, and that there have been no US obstacles to the renewal of his commercial ventures in Iraq.

The Senate report claims Mr Galloway used a charity he set up, the Mariam Appeal, to conceal payments. He denies the claims and says he will refute the "McCarthyite ... [and] Kafkaesque slurs" at today's hearing. His evidence will be televised.