· MP challenges accuser to debate in midwest base
· Demand for perjury claim to be settled by court fight
Ewen MacAskill Wednesday October 26, 2005 The Guardian
George Galloway is considering taking his fight with Senator Norm Coleman to the Republican's heartland by booking a venue in Minnesota and challenging him to a debate.
Mr Coleman is chairman of a senate permanent sub-committee on investigations that yesterday accused Mr Galloway of lying under oath about Saddam Hussein's multi-million pound oil-for food programme.
The senate investigation claimed Mr Galloway, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, was granted eight oil allocations totalling 23 million barrels between 1999 and 2003. Mr Galloway said he had never received a penny in oil money.
Ron McKay, Mr Galloway's assistant, said that a hall could be booked for Minnesota possibly for as early as next week. The two could fly to the US and challenge Senator Coleman to turn up for a debate.
Mr Galloway said that the debate was one of a number of options and a final decision had not been taken. "We want to take the fight to the enemy," he said. He expressed little confidence that Mr Coleman would agree to such a debate.
Mr Galloway surprised Mr Coleman in May by flying to Washington to confront him directly in the senate over the oil allegations. Last month he flew to New York to debate Iraq with the writer Christopher Hitchens.
Mr Galloway described the senate's report as "politically motivated".
He also repeated his challenge to Mr Coleman to make his allegations outside the protection of the senate, to accuse him of perjury and let a court decide.
"I have no confidence that Coleman will charge me. That would require [Tariq] Aziz [the former Iraqi deputy prime minister being held in jail in Iraq and one of the senate committee's alleged sources] and others appearing in court." He said the senator would be "terrified of that".
"If they say they are going to charge me I'll head for the airport and I'm calling for them to do so, begging them to do so," he said. "The charge against me in this sneak attack is that I lied under oath in front of the Senate when I went there in May and trounced this group of lickspittle pro-war Bushites. I am unequivocally stating here and now I'll head for Heathrow now, pausing only to pick up my toothbrush, if they will promise to charge me with perjury. It is very clear what they said, I lied under oath. It is a criminal offence which is what they told me when I swore the oath. It is put up or shut up time. See you in court Senator Coleman."
Mr Galloway said: "They have introduced another man of the former Iraqi regime who the US has told us for years was made up of genocidal killers. Tariq Aziz now agrees with the US. He is a genocidal murderer one day then a reputable witness the next." Mr Galloway claimed he was unaware of the $150,000 (£84,000) allegedly deposited into his estranged wife's bank account by Jordanian businessman, Fawaz Zureikat.
He added: "These are allegations about my soon to be ex-wife who divorced me on the front page of the Sunday Times five days before the general election, which I was a candidate for, in May this year."
Mr Coleman's committee claimed that Mr Aziz had provided evidence, but Mr McKay on Monday night questioned the reliability of information that may have been acquired under duress. Mr Aziz and Mr Galloway are friends. The row will flare again tomorrow when a United Nations investigation, headed by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, issues a separate report into companies and individuals round the world alleged to have received oil allocations.
Mr Galloway said yesterday that the Volcker inquiry, unlike Mr Coleman, had extended the courtesy of sending its findings relating to him in advance. He said the report repeated allegations similar to Mr Coleman's but concluded he had received no money.
The senate committee claimed to have found $150,000 in Iraqi oil money in the bank account of Mr Galloway's estranged wife Armineh Abu-Zayyad, a Palestinian. Mr Galloway said yesterday he was not responsible for his wife's finances.
He said she had worked in Iraq for five years, researching claims of an increase in cancer in southern Iraq as a result of depleted uranium used in the US-led campaign to free Kuwait in 1991. In the committee's report Dr Abu-Zayyad is specifically quoted denying she received any money.
The inquiry by the Senate committee into allegations that the Respect MP George Galloway received oil allocations from Saddam Hussein is not the only investigation. Mr Galloway has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
· A United Nation's investigation, headed by Paul Volcker, has been looking at the whole oil-for-food programme. It is due to report tomorrow. It will repeat many of the same allegations as the senate committee but is expected to conclude that it has no evidence that Mr Galloway received any oil money.
· A court ruling is expected soon on an appeal by the Daily Telegraph against a successful libel action by Mr Galloway.
· Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary commissioner for standards - an independent parliamentary ombudsman - is awaiting the outcome of the Telegraph case. He first received a complaint in April 2003 when the Telegraph report appeared but decided to await the result of the libel hearing. A spokeswoman for his office said yesterday that once the court rules, "Sir Philip will seek fresh legal advice on how to proceed".
· The Charity Commission conducted an inquiry into Mr Galloway's Mariam Appeal, a charity/campaign against Iraqi sanctions, and cleared it of any wrongdoing. A spokeswoman said yesterday that the commission has not reopened its inquiry but the Senate committee had agreed to send material. She said: "We will then decide whether we need to take any further action."
George Galloway and the US senate
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18.05.2005: Galloway and the mother of all invective
18.05.2005: Ewen MacAskill: Mr Galloway goes to Washington
17.05.2005: Galloway defends himself at US Senate
13.05.2005: Galloway to face US hearing
12.05.2005: Galloway faces renewed claims over Saddam oil
12.05.2005: Galloway offers to answer Iraq oil allegations