Senate are out to smear me, says George as he faces 'kangaroo court'

<preform>The allegations: George Galloway, pugnacious new anti-war MP for Bethnal Green, profited from oil deals with Saddam Hussein, according to a committee of the US Senate </br> The defence: Galloway insists he has never earned money from the sale of a single Iraqi barrel of oil, and will accuse senators, to their face, of relying on dubious intelligence </br> The investigation: Reporting from London, Washington and the Middle East, the IoS examines the alleged evidence - and reveals how Galloway intends to defend himself</preform>
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George Galloway will fly into Washington tomorrow to tell a US Senate committee it may have been fed faked documents alleging he was given millions of dollars in Iraqi oil contracts.

George Galloway will fly into Washington tomorrow to tell a US Senate committee it may have been fed faked documents alleging he was given millions of dollars in Iraqi oil contracts.

The newly elected MP for Bethnal Green and Bow believes the senators have been manipulated by US intelligence into accepting false claims that he and a close former business associate were secretly given the rights to sell 20 million barrels of Iraqi oil. In what promises to be an epic confrontation he will accuse senators of conducting a smear campaign against him.

Mr Gallowaywill walk into Room 562 of the Dirksen Building on Capitol Hill to confront the 13-strong, Republican-led Senate committee on Tuesday. The committee said last week it had "significant evidence" Mr Galloway had been profiting personally from oil vouchers, given to him in reward for his staunch criticisms of UN sanctions against Iraq.

In typical style, Mr Galloway is planning to give his inquisitors "both barrels". He said yesterday he was particularly angry that the committee had published its allegations without giving him any chance to study its evidence or interviewing him first. The committee's main Iraqi witnesses, including former Iraqi ministers - are all in US custody.

It will be the first time a British politician has been interrogated as a hostile witness in the Senate. Indeed, the only other time that British MPs are known to have given evidence to a congressional committee was in April 1986, when the Tory MP Roger Gale and a colleague appeared at a hearing of the Senate's committee on commerce, science and transportation.

This Tuesday's event carries echoes of the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when witch-hunting senators, led by Joe McCarthy, interrogated film-makers, actors, writers, soldiers, civil servants and trade unionists for being suspected Communists.

This time will be very different. Unlike many of McCarthy's cowed witnesses, Mr Galloway is a showman who revels in confrontation and a veteran political street-fighter. And the allegations he rejects are more complex - and most people would say much more serious - than membership of the Communist Party.

"I'm not at all worried, but neither am I looking forward to it," Mr Galloway told The Independent on Sunday. "I had hoped to be making a speech in Parliament in the Queen's Speech debate. Instead, I'm diverted to Washington to deal with all of this. But I certainly have no fears of American senators, even though there will be 13 of them and one of me."

Mr Galloway will try to turn the tables on the committee. He will accuse Norm Coleman, the ambitious Republican senator for Minnesota and chair of the Senate's Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations, and his colleagues of bias by failing to investigate US complicity in sanctions-busting oil deals in Iraq.

Mr Coleman, he will contend, has presided over a "kangaroo court" where the chief suspects - himself and the French former minister Charles Pasqua - were refused the right to examine and challenge the evidence against them before being judged guilty in last week's report.

He will also allege that the committee has been "fed" its material by US intelligence, using questionable sources. Its chief witnesses, such as the former Iraqi vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, are in US custody. One other is unnamed, presumably under US protection. And, he will add, none of the documents has been independently examined. He suspects that they are part of a "neo-conservative" conspiracy against him.

"There's no doubt Coleman is part of that neo-con assault on the United Nations and on those who he perceives have betrayed the United States over Iraq and the war. I don't know much about the other members of the committee, but if you look at his website, the chairman is driving it," Mr Galloway said.

Mr Coleman and his committee may give as good as they get. The six Democrat members, who also signed the report naming Mr Galloway, may bridle at being described, by implication, as Republican "lickspittles". In their hands is some apparently potent ammunition: four Iraqi oil trading contracts that name Mr Galloway, Fawaz Zureikat and the MP's anti-sanctions Mariam Appeal as the beneficiaries of 20 million barrels worth of oil vouchers, and testimony from several Iraqi officials that implicates the Bethnal Green and Bow MP in an "oil for influence" scandal.

Their report cited allegations by Mr Ramadan, who ran the committee that oversaw Saddam's oil contracts, that Mr Galloway was given the allocations "because of his opinions about Iraq" and because the MP "want[ed] to lift the embargo against Iraq". Another unnamed Iraqi official was quoted as claiming that a British MP "benefited tremendously from the illegal trade in oil by Iraq".

Long before last week's report, Mr Galloway's politics were anathema to many Americans. Now notorious for saying to Saddam in 1994 that he "saluted" the dictator's "courage, strength and indefatigability", Mr Galloway's relentless attacks on US-led sanctions against Iraq, his championing of the Palestinian cause, and his prominence in Britain's anti-war movement, brought him notoriety.

Despite his consistent denials and two successful libel actions, the allegations linking Mr Galloway to Iraqi oil deals refuse to die. In 2003, he was hit by newspaper allegations that he had personally been granted oil vouchers by Saddam's regime. One set of documents used by the respected Christian Science Monitor were found to be forged. The paper quickly settled a libel action.

Earlier, documents were uncovered by The Daily Telegraph in the wreckage of Baghdad within days of the city's capture by US forces. Apparently written by the head of Saddam's secret service, one set of papers alleged that Mr Galloway had received oil vouchers, claiming £375,000 a year, and wanted more.

Last year, Mr Galloway won a libel action against the Telegraph and was awarded £150,000 in damages, with the paper facing £1.2m costs. He won principally because the paper mishandled its attempts to give Mr Galloway the right of reply, and the way it presented the accusations.

The MP repeatedly denied the claims were true, but the authenticity of the documents was not challenged by his team in court. For its part, the Telegraph never insisted in court it believed the documents' claims were true. This particular battle will be fought again. The Telegraph is appealing against the verdict, and a hearing is scheduled to begin on 10 October.

At the centre of this latest row are two issues - Saddam's abuse of the UN oil-for-food programme and Mr Galloway's campaign against UN sanctions on Iraq. According to Mr Coleman's committee, the MP's campaign may have been used to conceal Iraqi oil payments, thanks, it suggests, to one of Mr Galloway's main allies, a Jordanian businessman called Fawaz Zureikat.

The UN's vast "oil-for-food" initiative, controlled from New York, was designed to ensure sanction-hit Iraq had enough food and essential medical supplies. It has since emerged that Saddam deliberately subverted it, raking off $1.7bn in illegal sales.

In 1998, Mr Galloway launched his own campaign against those sanctions, using a four-year-old girl with leukaemia, a frail and extremely ill child called Mariam Hamza, as its figurehead. He raised £900,000, intended to fund her ultimately successful trip for live-saving treatment at Yorkhill hospital in Glasgow and the US, and for Mr Galloway's frequent trips abroad to lift sanctions. Along the way, he took a London double-decker bus on a campaigning trip to Iraq.

Two years ago, at the height of the war in Iraq, the Charity Commission and the Attorney General launched an investigation into the appeal. The commission cleared Mr Galloway and the trust's officers of misusing funds. But the commission said it had been unable to examine the appeal's main accounts since they had been sent to Jordan in 2001.

According to the documents publicised by Mr Coleman's committee, the four contracts and supporting letters from Saddam's officials variously named Mr Zureikat and several companies associated with him, Mr Galloway and the Mariam Appeal as the direct beneficiaries.

Yet, as Mr Galloway and his associates point out, no proof has been found that he personally profited from Iraqi oil or handled any oil contracts or vouchers. There is no proof he met any Iraqi official to discuss oil deals, and none that he authorised such deals.

He insists that lack of evidence is compelling. "Believe me, if Saddam Hussein or anybody else had ever given me the huge sums of money that these contracts generated, you would already have the cheque in your hand. You would already have my bank account details. The United States security services would have provided you with all of that," Mr Galloway said.

Questions are, however, raised about Mr Zureikat's role in the affair. The Jordanian Christian businessman had intimate knowledge of Iraq and long-standing business links with Saddam's regime. His influence was crucial. A prominent campaigner against UN sanctions, he enabled Mr Galloway to get access to Saddam's inner circle, and smoothed the path for his visits.

Mr Zureikat, who was originally introduced to Mr Galloway by his Palestinian-born wife, Amineh Abu-Zayyad, was made the appeal's chairman after personally donating some £375,000 to its funds. A further £500,000 came from a benefactor in the United Arab Emirates and the remainder from a Saudi donor.

He also played a major role in another of Mr Galloway's failed business ventures, becoming a co-director and major funder of an attempt to set up the Al Arab satellite television station in Iraq. Crucially, oil vouchers were among Mr Zureikat's business dealings with Iraq. According to Iraqi oil ministry documents produced after the US-led invasion, he won contracts to ship 8.8 million barrels of oil, worth between $154m and $316m. Mr Zureikat insists all his contracts were legal, and all scrutinised by the UN.

He said: "My money has come from selling the oil to international companies. It is not money given to me by Iraqis ... I did not make amazing profits, they were around 10 per cent." Was it possible, however, that Mr Zureikat traded on his links with Mr Galloway and the Mariam Appeal to win the contracts? Is that why Saddam's officials believed Mr Galloway and the appeal were involved? Or is it possible that the Iraqis just made up these links for their own political reasons?

These claims are rejected by Mr Galloway.He believes the documents' authenticity is extremely questionable - chiefly because they were produced after the US seized Iraq, by an oil ministry now under US control. Mr Galloway said Mr Zureikat "had been doing business in Iraq long before he ever met me and did much bigger business ... than he ever did in the oil field. Most of his work was in engineering. He gave £375,000 or so to our campaign. That's why he was the chairman of our campaign. That's why we emblazoned his support for us everywhere on our websites, on our leaflets and so on.

"I don't believe he exploited my name because he already had a big name in Iraq, long before he ever met me. So there was no need for him to exploit my name."

There are unanswered questions, he added, about the accuracy of the new documents. "Was my name added to these documents at the time or were they added later? I don't know who put my name on these documents. I don't know when they did it."

Mr Zureikat, who now lives unostentatiously in a small flat in Jordan and drives a second-hand car, is cynical about the entire affair. Allegedly at US instigation, a few months before the coalition invasion of Iraq he was seized by Jordanian intelligence and, after 27 days, released without charge. "If the Americans had any definite proof, they would have had me arrested again."

The fixer: Fawaz Zureikat

A 51-year-old Jordanian businessman, he cultivated links with Saddam's regime, ran an anti-sanctions campaign, and won engineering, oil and construction deals in Iraq.

The victim: Mariam Hamza

Then aged four and ill with leukaemia, she became the public face of Galloway's £1m anti-sanctions campaign. Flown to the UK for treatment in 1998, she is now back in Baghdad.

The dealer: Taha Yassin Ramadan

As vice-president of Iraq, Ramadan, 66, ran a state committee that siphoned off $1.7bn of "oil-for-food" money, which was spent by senior officials or used to buy influence.

The ex-minister: Charles Pasqua

The former French interior minister was also named by the Senate committee last week as the beneficiary of 11 million barrels of Iraqi oil. Pasqua, 78, still an MP, denies the charges.

The accuser: Norm Coleman

A former Democrat, the Republican Minnesota Senator has seized on Iraq and alleged incompetence at the UN, calling earlier this year for Kofi Annan to resign as Secretary-General.

The dictator: Saddam Hussein

Awaiting trial for war crimes, Iraq's former president, 68, allegedly told his officials to buy influence with Western politicians and businesspeople with illegal oil sales.

The editor: Charles Moore

As editor of The Daily Telegraph in April 2003, he was on leave when his paper alleged that Iraqi documents claimed Galloway was given £375,000 by Saddam. He resigned in October 2003.

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