Tariq Aziz denies offering Chirac oil vouchers as bribes before invasion

The right-hand man of Saddam Hussein, the former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, has denied that the Iraqi leadership bribed the President of France and the former leader of Indonesia with oil vouchers to secure political support before the invasion of Iraq.

The right-hand man of Saddam Hussein, the former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, has denied that the Iraqi leadership bribed the President of France and the former leader of Indonesia with oil vouchers to secure political support before the invasion of Iraq.

Mr Aziz, who has been in detention near Baghdad since his arrest in April 2003 along with other members of Saddam's regime, used notes scribbled on pages from his lawyer's diary to issue a plea for help to end his "dire situation".

But in the letters, written in English and Arabic, Mr Aziz reveals details of his interrogation by US senators and American arms inspectors trying to account for weapons of mass destruction, who were following up accusations that Saddam diverted billions of dollars from the UN-administered oil-for-food scheme.

Senators from the Permanent Sub-committee on Investigations interviewed Mr Aziz in Camp Cropper last month, and he had previously been questioned by the US-led Iraq Survey Group. Mr Aziz said in one of the notes: "I was asked if I had recommended giving money or oil to President Chirac [of France], or Petros Gali [the former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali], Ekius [Rolf Ekeus, the former chief UN weapons inspector]. My answer is NO. The same to President Megawati [of Indonesia]. NO."

If Mr Aziz is to be believed, his notes, published in The Observer, could help shed light on the scandal which is being investigated by the UN and the US Congress. The Iraqi deputy prime minister was the main contact for foreign individuals and companies involved in the oil-for-food programme. The senators who questioned him returned convinced that George Galloway, the anti-war Respect MP, and the former French interior minister Charles Pasqua, had profited from Saddam's bribes.

Mr Galloway, who flew to Washington to rebut the accusations, and Mr Pasqua deny the charges of the Senate sub-committee which were in a report on 12 May. Mr Aziz's notes - or at least those available yesterday - do not mention Mr Galloway or Mr Pasqua, who is close to Mr Chirac.

The extent of the oil-for-food scandal reached the public domain in January 2004, when the Iraqi newspaper al-Mada published a list of 270 companies, organisations and individuals who allegedly illegally profited from oil sales.

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