- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

A British lawmaker and fierce critic of the Iraq war said yesterday that he will travel to Washington next week to rebut claims by a Senate committee that he was bribed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein through the U.N. oil-for-food program.

Both British Member of Parliament George Galloway and former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua strenuously denied new charges by congressional investigators that they received cut-rate allocations of millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in return for supporting Saddam’s regime.

“It doesn’t matter how long you repeat a falsehood, it doesn’t become other than a falsehood,” Mr. Galloway told British Broadcasting Corp. Radio in an interview.

Mr. Galloway, who won a seat in Parliament earlier this month after quitting the Labor Party to protest Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Iraq policy, told Sky News that the Senate charges amounted to a “political hatchet job.”

In Paris, Mr. Pasqua, a longtime ally of President Jacques Chirac and another critic of international sanctions on Saddam, repeated denials that he had accepted oil bribes from Iraq. He noted that he has not held a position in the French executive branch since 1995 — before the U.N. program began.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations said yesterday that it has evidence that Mr. Pasqua received the rights to 11 million barrels of oil and that Mr. Galloway received up to 20 million barrels from Saddam’s Oil Ministry under the scandal-plagued oil-for-food program.

U.S. and U.N. investigators say the oil rights could be sold to legitimate firms at a markup of as much as 30 cents a barrel.

The charges had surfaced before, but subcommittee Chairman Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, said the Senate findings were based on newly uncovered Iraqi Oil Ministry documents and contracts, as well as interviews with senior Saddam aides such as detained Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

A spokesman for Mr. Coleman said the subcommittee would have a “witness chair and a microphone” ready for Mr. Galloway at a hearing set for Tuesday, but the aide denied the British lawmaker’s assertion yesterday that he had tried to contact the Senate panel to defend himself before the report was issued.

“At no time did Mr. Galloway contact the [subcommittee] by any means, including but not limited to telephone, fax, e-mail, letter, Morse code or carrier pigeon,” the spokesman said.

Comparing himself to the biblical Daniel in the lions’ den, Mr. Galloway said in London he planned to “give them both barrels,” when he testifies in Washington.

Mr. Blair said the British government “had no plans” to investigate the maverick lawmaker in the light of the U.S. findings, telling reporters, “Obviously, it depends on what emerges.”

The French Foreign Ministry also declined direct comment on the charges against Mr. Pasqua, who recently was elected to the French Senate.

But ministry officials complained that the U.S. investigation had aired the charges without giving the accused a chance to respond, a complaint that France also lodged against a critical oil-for-food report issued by CIA weapons inspector for Iraq Charles A. Duelfer last fall.

“We have already indicated that we disapprove of this manner of proceeding,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo told Agence France-Presse news service.

The seven-year, $64 billion U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, the largest financial scandal in the world body’s history, was designed to allow Saddam to sell oil for a tightly controlled list of food and humanitarian supplies.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office last year estimated that Saddam stole as much as $10 billion under the program in secret oil deals and kickbacks, using bribes and other favors to weaken sanctions against Iraq and win political support around the world.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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