British Lawmaker Denies Oil-for-Food Allegation
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
New details emerged today about how former Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein abused the United Nations' oil-for-food program. A Senate committee heard how he handed out oil allocations to international figures in return for political favors. One man who's accused of receiving these oil vouches, George Galloway, defended himself before the panel. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
British parliamentarian George Galloway was in a fighting mood as he arrived on Capitol Hill. He accused the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of acting like a `pro-war Republican lynch mob.' His testimony in front of Chairman Norm Coleman was just as feisty.
Mr. GEORGE GALLOWAY (British Member of Parliament): Senator, this is the mother of all smoke screens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.
KELEMEN: While Galloway wanted to talk about the US Occupation Authority and its poor accounting of Iraqi oil sales, Coleman tried to keep him focused on the UN oil-for-food program. The Minnesota Republican referred to documents which he said proved the Iraqi government, perhaps to thank Galloway for lobbying against UN sanctions, granted the British politician 20 million barrels' worth of oil. Galloway denied this.
Mr. GALLOWAY: I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one and neither has anybody on my behalf.
KELEMEN: But Senator Coleman pressed on, questioning Galloway's relationship with a Jordanian businessman, Fawaz Zureikat, who was involved in Iraqi oil deals and was a big contributor to Galloway's Children's leukemia fund.
Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): And so in 2003, you're saying you don't know the answer to whether he was involved in oil deals?
Mr. GALLOWAY: Well, I told you in my previous two answers. I knew that Mr. Zureikat was heavily involved in business in Iraq and elsewhere, but that it was none of my business what particular transactions or business he was involved in, any more than you ask the American Israel Public Affairs Committee when they donate money to you or pay for your trips to Israel where they got the money from.
KELEMEN: Galloway, who was kicked out of Britain's Labor Party for his fiery anti-war rhetoric, was equally combative when questioned by the top Democratic on the subcommittee, Carl Levin. Levin asked whether Galloway would be troubled if he found out one of his contributors may have paid kickbacks to Saddam Hussein. Galloway said he was mainly troubled by the UN sanctions on Iraq.
Mr. GALLOWAY: I would fund-raise from the kings of Arabia, whose political systems I have opposed all my life, in order to raise funds for what I thought was an emergency facing a disaster. And I did not ask Mr. Zureikat which part of his profits from his entire business empire he was making donations to our charity from.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): That wasn't my question. My question was: Would it...
Mr. GALLOWAY: Well, it is.
Sen. LEVIN: No, my question is: Would it trouble you if you found that out?
Mr. GALLOWAY: Well...
Sen. LEVIN: And it's OK. You're not going to answer it.
Mr. GALLOWAY: All right.
Sen. LEVIN: It's clear to me. I want to go to my next question.
Mr. GALLOWAY: All right.
KELEMEN: While Senators Levin and Coleman seemed frustrated with the responses--and Coleman even questioned whether Galloway was telling the truth--the British politician came out looking pleased. He had taken the public stage in Congress to say why he opposed the war in Iraq, which he said was based on a pack of lies. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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