Two European politicians received millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for their support of Saddam Hussein's regime, a U.S. Senate committee probing corruption in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program found.
The report, released late Wednesday, accused British lawmaker George Galloway (search) and former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua (search) accepted oil allocations under the Oil-for-Food scheme.
The allegations against the the two men, outspoken opponents of U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, are not new. What is new is the documentation that the committee offered, which it said proves the misconduct.
"This report exposes how Saddam Hussein turned the Oil-for-Food program on its head and used the program to reward his political allies like Pasqua and Galloway," Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman (search), chairman of the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations, said in a statement.
Coleman's committee said Pasqua had received allocations worth 11 million barrels from 1999 to 2000, and Galloway received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003.
Among the other claims: New evidence suggests that a children's leukemia charity founded by Galloway was in fact used to conceal oil payments.
The report included information from interviews with former high-ranking officials now in U.S. custody, including former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz (search) and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan (search).
'I Deny Them One More Time'
Both men denied the report's claims.
On Thursday morning in Britain, Galloway, who was re-elected to Parliament in the national election last week as a representative of his own anti-war Respect party, denied the report's claims.
Galloway described the Senate committee as a "lickspittle Republican committee, acting on the wishes of George Bush."
"Let me repeat. I have never traded in a barrel of oil, or any vouchers for it," he said in a written statement. "And no one has acted on my behalf, trading in oil — Middle Eastern, olive, patchouli (search) or any other — or in vouchers, whatever they are."
Galloway said he had sent letters and e-mails asking to appear before the Senate committee to provide evidence and deny their claims, but had not received a response.
The flamboyant Galloway, nicknamed "Gorgeous George" by the British press for his expensive suits, pugnacious manner and far-left politics, defeated a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party and strong supporter of the Iraq war, Oona King, in a largely Muslim district of East London.
Pasqua also issued a statement Thursday denying he ever received benefits from Saddam's regime. The French senator said the committee's probe repeated claims already made last year.
"I deny them one more time," Pasqua said.
Detailing the Charges
The Oil-for-Food program was designed to let Saddam's government sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods to help the Iraqi people cope with U.N. sanctions imposed in 1991 following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
But Saddam manipulated the $64 billion program to earn illegal revenues and peddle influence, by awarding former government officials, activists, U.N. officials and journalists vouchers for Iraqi oil that could then be resold at a profit.
Coleman claimed Saddam also approved Pasqua's allocations himself. The report cites Ramadan as saying in an interview that Galloway was allocated oil "because of his opinions about Iraq."
The report includes what Coleman said was a copy of a contract from Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization that mentions Mariam's Appeal (search), a fund Galloway established in 1998 to help a 4-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from leukemia, Mariam Hamze.
It says the fund may have been used to conceal the transfer of 3 million barrels of oil.
Coleman's subcommittee said the evidence it found against Galloway was different from documents reported in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in April 2003 alleging that he took money from Saddam's regime.
Galloway filed a libel suit over the story and won $1.4 million from the Daily Telegraph last year. Galloway also accepted undisclosed damages and a public apology from the Christian Science Monitor over an article it published alleging he took money from Saddam's regime. That report was based on documents that later proved to be forgeries.
As for Pasqua, the report claims the State Oil Marketing Organization wrangled with one of his aides over the best way to deliver oil allocations to him.
SOMO wanted it done through a French company, but Pasqua's aide, Bernard Guillet (search), insisted it be done through a Swiss company called Genmar (search), Coleman's committee said. The organization requested a letter to that effect.
"According to SOMO, Guillet refused to send such a letter, explaining that 'they cannot do that fearing political scandals,'" the report said.
Genmar was eventually approved and SOMO went on to allocate millions of barrels of oil to it, Coleman claimed.
The report said Guillet received 5 million barrels. Guillet is currently under investigation in France for suspected influence-peddling and receiving misappropriated funds.
Coleman's subcommittee is one of several U.S. congressional bodies investigating allegations of wrongdoing in Oil-for-Food. The panel has a hearing scheduled Tuesday and Galloway has indicated he would attend.
Another panel, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has scheduled a hearing Monday to look at Saddam's relationship with the U.N. Security Council.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.