May 17, 2005 | New York Sun

Galloway Deplores U.S. Probe of U.N.

WASHINGTON – A left-wing member of the British Parliament, George Galloway, named by Senate investigators as having been granted lucrative rights by Saddam Hussein to buy oil under the U.N. oil-for-food program, testified under oath yesterday, declaring, “I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader, and neither has anyone on my behalf.”

Mr. Galloway's performance, in which he not only declared his innocence but also aired his anti-American views, was the main event at yesterday's oil-for-food hearing, held by the permanent subcommittee on investigations, which is led by Senator Coleman, a Republican of Minnesota. The Briton swept into the Senate's Dirksen office building surrounded by British reporters who took their seats at the press table debating whether the precise wording with which he had insulted one of their colleagues was a “drink soaked, former Trotskyist popinjay,” or some variation thereon. In his testimony, Mr. Galloway, wearing a silver-and-black striped tie and scowling at the Senate panel, deplored the investigations into the oil-for-food program as “the mother of all smoke screens.”

But to focus on Mr. Galloway misses the real story, which resides not in his theatrics but in those stacks of oil-for-food documents that Congress has been steadily bringing to light. Mr. Coleman's subcommittee is one of a number of investigations that have been piecing together the jigsaw of suspect deals with which Saddam exploited oil for food to thwart sanctions, buy arms, fund terror, and seek political influence around the globe. As a private financial investigator, John Fawcett, testified before another hearing, held Monday by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, it was an immensely corrupt program, run by the United Nations between 1996 and 2003, which was a critical era during which the rules of the post-Soviet new world order were being written. The result, said Mr. Fawcett, was that oil for food “gave a tremendous boost towards the institutionalization of corruption within the global economy, the repercussions of which have barely begun to emerge.”

Between subpoenas issued in America and documents and testimony gathered in Baghdad and other parts of the Middle East, Mr. Coleman's investigators and others have been piecing together what the Minnesotan described yesterday as “parallel patterns.” The aim of Mr. Coleman's subcommittee yesterday was to illustrate how Saddam's system worked. What Mr. Galloway derided as the “sedate” aspect of the proceedings (the portion in which he was not speaking) consisted largely of investigators reviewing documents and testimony of former officials of Saddam's regime.

Bit by bit, these investigators are uncovering financial links between Saddam and political figures who supported the dictator's sanctions-busting agenda, such as a former French Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, a Russian parliamentarian, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and members of Russian President Putin's inner circle.

Both Messrs. Pasqua and Zhirinovsky have denied any wrongdoing. In Mr. Galloway's case, the thread from Baghdad leads to a document in which his name appears alongside that of a Jordanian businessman, Fawaz Zureqat, who by Galloway's own account under oath yesterday is well known to him, and did big business with Saddam. This particular document discusses an oil “surcharge,” or kickback, owed by Mr. Zureqat's company, Middle East Advanced Semiconductor, to the U.N.-sanctioned Iraqi regime. It does not constitute proof that a kickback was paid, or that any money was transferred onward to Mr. Galloway, who says that never happened. But it is one of a number of similar documents, showing similar patterns. And it is the kind of material that suggests that there are questions yet to be answered, wherever the trails might lead.

Not so long ago, the problem in uncovering the truth about oil for food was that there was simply too little material available. The United Nations kept secret all but the most generic aspects of Saddam's deals. At this point, congressional committees have procured, and produced, such reams of material that it will take time to absorb. Rep. Henry Hyde's Committee on International Relations recently released data, including names and dollar amounts, for more than 400 transactions done in violation of U.N. rules – but without U.N. protest – via the main oil-for-food bank, BNP Paribas.

Mr. Coleman's committee last autumn produced copious materials on U.N. inspections contractors and has now produced yet more that touches on Saddam's oil deals. Mr. Coleman noted at yesterday's hearing that “This subcommittee is not a court of law,” and his panel is simply presenting some of the material amassed to date. But in this material, some names begin to stand out, some connections start to crisscross, and with the Department of Justice also on the case, we may well be approaching the point at which the jigsaw puzzle picture of oil for food's inner world truly takes shape.



International Organizations