Friday, October 28, 2005

British lawmaker George Galloway, a former French interior minister and the head of the Russian Communist Party are among a slew of politicians fingered as having accepted bribes from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the massive report on the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.

The United Nations-appointed investigation, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, offered fresh evidence yesterday on how Iraq manipulated lucrative oil deals in a long-term, concerted campaign to buy friends and influence governments around the world.

Iraq under Saddam gave secret oil rights to “a wide array of individuals and groups whom it considered influential in their respective countries and who espoused pro-Iraqi views or organized anti-sanction actions,” the report concluded.

Mr. Galloway and many of the other figures accused in the report had been identified previously, but the Volcker panel’s large budget, extensive mandate and exclusive access to internal U.N. documents give the latest findings added weight.

Among those accused in the report were former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua; Roberto Formigoni, governor of Italy’s Lombardy region and an ally of President Silvio Berlusconi; and leading Russian figures such as Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and one-time Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin.

In statements included with the report, virtually all deny accepting oil favors from Iraq.

The Volcker study said Iraq’s payouts were well-planned, targeting countries such as France and Russia, which opposed the U.S. hard line on Saddam and have a Security Council veto.

The panel found that Mr. Galloway, a maverick member of the British Parliament who campaigned against the sanctions and against the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, received directly or indirectly the rights to resell about 18 million barrels of Iraqi oil.

Mr. Galloway called the charges “untrue, unjust and misleading.”

But Sen. Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican who has led a congressional probe into the oil-for-food scandal and Mr. Galloway’s dealings, said the U.N. findings validated his panel’s work and strengthened his resolve to pursue legal action over Mr. Galloway’s sworn denials of wrongdoing at a May hearing.

Mr. Coleman’s panel reported earlier this week that Mr. Galloway received nearly $600,000 in secret payouts, either through a charity he controlled or through bank accounts in the name of his now-estranged wife.

The Volcker report detailed a previously undisclosed additional payment of $120,000, thought to have been paid to Mr. Galloway’s wife from another oil-for-food contractor.

“Despite his venom and bluster, Galloway has been completely unable to explain away the evidence,” Mr. Coleman said yesterday.

The Volcker panel did clear one top U.N. figure, saying it could find no evidence that former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali had known about corrupt oil deals that senior U.N. staffers made with Iraq.

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