- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday that it has seen no evidence to back charges by a U.S. congressional panel that senior government and political figures received bribes from Iraq under the United Nations’ troubled oil-for-food program.

In the Kremlin’s most extensive comments to date, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the U.S.-led efforts to expose the oil-for-food scandal are actually aimed at undermining the United Nations.

“The campaign … is of a completely politicized nature and is being used for improper ends,” Mr. Fedotov told the Russian news agency Interfax. “It aims to discredit the United Nations and, at the same time, those countries that cooperated [with] the oil-for-food program.”

A Senate hearing room will be the site of one of the scandal’s most-anticipated showdowns today, when British lawmaker George Galloway is slated to answer under oath similar charges that he received cut-rate oil purchasing rights from dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime in exchange for opposing international sanctions and the U.S.-led war.

Investigators for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigations subcommittee have released a series of reports in the past week charging that high-profile officials such as Mr. Galloway, former top Kremlin aide Alexander Voloshin, Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky and former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua with earning millions from secret oil deals with Saddam.

The names of all four appeared on internal Iraqi documents obtained by Senate investigators. Interviews with top Saddam-era officials, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, confirmed the bribery scheme, said subcommittee Chairman Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican.

“This is the way Saddam Hussein used the oil-for-food program to line his own pockets and curry favor abroad,” Mr. Coleman said.

Mr. Galloway is a longtime sympathizer with the Iraqi regime and critic of U.S.-backed international sanctions against Saddam. He quit Britain’s Labor Party to protest Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for the war and earlier this month defeated a Labor candidate for a seat in Parliament.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. yesterday, Mr. Galloway accused his U.S. attackers of seeking to divert attention from what he said were the failures of the war.

“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 USA and its corporations, and the deaths of more than 100,000 people in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Pasqua, who has also denied the charges, said at a Paris press conference that he thought the attacks were payback for those who opposed the war, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I have the impression I am being used,” Mr. Pasqua said.

In Moscow, Mr. Zhirinovsky also denied taking oil bribes, despite records linking him to resold oil contracts with an indicted American trading firm.

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