Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Bad News for Gorgeous George

Yet more documents have surfaced implicating George Galloway in peddling influence on behalf of Saddam. These new papers may turn out to be false, just as the ones offered to the Christian Science Monitor were discovered to be, but I have to say that it doesn't look good for Galloway at this point; there are simply too many lines of evidence linking him financially to Saddam, and his strange reluctance to prosecute with vigor his legal case against the Telegraph, given the pro-accuser tilt of British libel law, marks George Galloway out as doubly suspect.

Money illicitly siphoned from the UN oil-for-food programme by Saddam Hussein was used to finance anti-sanctions campaigns run by British politicians, according to documents that have surfaced in Baghdad.

Undercover cash from oil deals went to three businessmen who in turn supported pressure groups involving the ex-Labour MP George Galloway, Labour MP Tam Dalyell, and the former Irish premier Albert Reynolds, it is alleged in documents compiled by the oil ministry, which is now under the control of the US occupation regime.

Separately, a dossier from the oil ministry in Baghdad has been handed by the British Foreign Office to Customs and Excise, which has been asked to investigate. They were also referred to the Cabinet Office because of their political sensitivity.

"The government has been given copies of certain documents [from Iraq]," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday. "They are being passed to the appropriate authorities for consideration."

Two of the three businessmen involved in UK campaigns, Burhan al-Chalabi and Riad al-Tajir, were based in Surrey; the other, Fawwaz Zureikat, a Jordanian entrepreneur, had offices in London.

Mr Chalabi and Mr Zureikat gave money to the Mariam Appeal, run by Mr Galloway, the MP confirmed. Mr Tahir said he ran another anti-sanctions campaign called Friendship Across Borders, which had Mr Dalyell as its official patron and organised visits to Baghdad by supportive politicians.

The three businessmen are alleged to have received money from Saddam via oil allocations. They sold the oil rights on at a profit of more than $1m (about £530,000), in an exploitation by Saddam of loopholes in the UN's then oil-for-food programme.

Mr Tahir agrees he profited from the oil deals. Mr Chalabi refuses to comment. Mr Zureikat confirmed to Agence France Presse in Jordan last week that he had made the oil deals.

There doesn't seem to be much wiggle room here for dispute: Galloway did recieve financial contributions from these businessman, and they in turn did obtain easy profits from the Oil-for-Food programme. Still, while this does have ethical implications for Galloway's moral standing as an anti-war campaigner, it isn't quite enough on its own to implicate him in bribery. My suspicion is that Galloway knew very well what he was doing, and intentionally set things up in this fashion to avoid direct culpability.