The Oil-for-food programme: the players and the claims

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Indy Politics

How did the accusations against George Galloway surface?

They came to light in January 2004 when an Iraqi newspaper published a list of 270 companies, organisations and individuals who allegedly profited from Iraqi oil sales after being allocated vouchers by Saddam Hussein's regime. Mr Galloway's name, and that of his associate Fawaz Zureikat, was on the list, along with those of politicians from around the world. The list was revisited, in greater detail, by the chief US weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, in September 2004. Mr Galloway was not on that list, but Mr Zureikat was. Mr Duelfer said it was not known if recipients of the oil vouchers had actually cashed them in.

What was the oil-for-food programme?

It was set up while Iraq was under sanctions to allow Saddam to export limited quantities of oil under UN supervision to buy food and medicine for the people. A total of $64bn went through the scheme from its inception in 1996 until after the war.

How did Saddam cheat?

He set up oil allocations aimed at buying political influence as the Iraqi regime pressed for the lifting of UN sanctions, imposed in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait. The vouchers enabled recipients to sell oil under the oil-for-food scheme. Estimates range from $1.7bn to $17.3bn as to the amount of money Saddam milked from diverting the UN-administered system.

What is new in the latest report?

The report by the US Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations contains information from two high-ranking Iraqi government officials, former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, who were interviewed last month. Aziz dealt with Western expatriates and companies, and Ramadan, director of the oil-for-food committee, kept the secret list of those awarded oil vouchers. It says there is some evidence Mr Galloway appeared to use a charity for children's leukemia to conceal payments associated with at least one allocation. The report also mentions that the documents come from the Iraqi oil ministry, and not from the foreign ministry, which was where The Daily Telegraph discovered papers that led to Mr Galloway successfully suing the newspaper for libel last year. Mr Galloway, and former French interior minister Charles Pasqua, who are singled out by the subcommittee, denied receiving bribes from Saddam when the allegations first came to light. The subcommittee provides no evidence that Mr Galloway and M. Pasqua actually did profit from the allocations.

Have criminal charges been laid in connection with the scandal?

Quite a few. An American who was on the original Iraqi newspaper list of 270, Samir Vincent, pleaded guilty in the United States to being an illegal agent of Saddam's regime. He secretly lobbied for the repeal of the Iraq sanctions while making millions brokering the sale of Iraqi oil. A British oil trader, an American tycoon and a Bulgarian oil trader have been indicted by US authorities for allegedly paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam. A South Korean faces a five-year sentence in the US on charges of conspiracy to act as an unregistered government agent for Iraq in setting up the oil-for-food programme. The head of the UN oil-for-food programme, Benon Sevan, and another UN official, have been suspended.

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