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EDITIONS
Newsnight Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
George Galloway responds to allegations
George Galloway
The man prepared most courageously to speak out against the war on Iraq has been the victim of an outrageous smear.

That, at least was his own version of events.

George Galloway, the man who called Tony Blair and Goerge Bush 'wolves', who urged British soldiers to disobey orders, and not to fight, was accused of having been in the pay of Saddam Hussein. To the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

He said he will sue the Daily Telegraph, who printed the allegations in what they say was an Iraqi intelligence officers' report.

He said he didn't receive any money from Iraq and isn't even registered with the UN Oil for Food programme. But what about his designated business representative to Iraq, Fawaz Zureikat? That was the question Jeremy Paxman put to Mr Galloway.


GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Well, Fawaz Zureikat was the chairman or is the chairman for some time of the Miriam Appeal. He's an activist in the anti-sanctions campaign, but he's also a rather successful businessman representing some of the world's biggest companies in the Middle East. He has been doing business around the Middle East and including in Iraq for a very long time, long before the Oil for Food programme and continuing now under the new dispensation such as it is. So if you're asking me, does Fawaz Zureikat do business in Iraq, undoubtedly yes. Has he been a generous benefactor of the work of the Miriam Appeal, undoubtedly yes, but that's a vastly different thing from what's alleged in the Telegraph that I personally have received money directly from the Iraqi regime.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
He is a friend of yours. He's described by you as your representative. Is he also registered with the United Nations on the Oil for Food arrangement?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Yes, I imagine so. He's quite a considerable player in business with Iraq.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Haven't you asked him?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Well, I'm trying to reach him to ask him if he's ever been involved in oil deals because I don't know the answer to that. I certainly know that he has been a supplier of very many things to very many ministries in Iraq, in the old regime through the Oil for Food programme from the Agriculture Ministry to the Trade Ministry and many others.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
But you maintain that you have received no money from him yourself?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
No, I have not.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
The problem here is, isn't it, that you've got form on this. We have a letter here from 1997 where you appealed to the Pakistani Government for money.

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Well, let me deal with one row at a time, please, Jeremy, without going back to the one we fell out about five years ago. By the way, if I was going to do it, which I didn't, why would I choose to go to a junior intelligence officer who then had to write a memo to his superior who then had to write a memo to Saddam Hussein in order to do it? I had access, as you very well know, at the highest level of Iraq's political leadership.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
That meeting took place on Boxing Day 1999. Where were you?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Well, I'm not entirely sure about that. I did spend one Christmas in Baghdad.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
It was the Christmas just before the millennium. Everyone knows where they were.

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Well, I'm not sure that I do, however, I'm prepared for argument's sake to concede that I was in Baghdad. I spent a Christmas Day in either '99 or 2000 with Tariq Aziz which makes the point I've just made. If I were in a frame of mind to discuss business with the regime in Iraq, I would have done it on Christmas Day with Tariq Aziz rather than with a junior intelligence officer on Boxing Day. I can tell you that to the best of my knowledge I have never met an Iraqi intelligence officer and I have never solicited money from one.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Were you there with Fawaz Zureikat?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
I was there with Fawaz Zureikat and others.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
And Mr Zureikat, you say, has had extensive dealings with the regime in Iraq. How much money has he given your charities?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Well, I don't know the exact figure, but he's one of the three biggest benefactors who are the Governments of the UAE, united Arab emirates and Saudi Arabia and Zureikat would be either second or third on that list. So he was a very generous donor to the campaign.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Will you open the accounts?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Do you have any idea how much money he may have received from Iraq?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
No. How can I have any idea?

JEREMY PAXMAN:
It's your charity, that's why.

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Sorry?

JEREMY PAXMAN:
It's your charity.

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
Two mistakes there. First of all, it isn't a charity. It's a political campaign and always has been. Secondly, it isn't mine. I founded it, but long ago gave up day-to-day control of it. Indeed the chairman of it for some considerable time has been Mr Fawaz Zureikat.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
So this organisation you set up which is not a charity but a political organisation which is now looked after by Mr Fawaz Zureikat, who you have already told us has extensive business interests in Iraq and may have taken much money from that country, you don't know quite how big that stake is?

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
The stake in the donations to the Miriam Appeal?

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Precisely.

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
I would have said it was of the order of about 200,000 over four years, a ballpark figure.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Just to be clear on the question of involvement with Labour party, your seat will be abolished. Will you seek renomination for a Labour candidacy at the next election.

GEORGE GALLOWAY:
My seat isn't going to be abolished. Glasgow is losing three seats and the remaining seven are merging. Mine is no more being abolished than anyone else's. Of course, I shall seek the nomination in the Glasgow Central constituency if the members are allowed to do so. I think I can confidently predict they will select me. If they're cheated of that right, then of course, I will defend the seat as an independent.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
George Galloway, thank you.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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George Galloway MP
"to the best of my knowledge I have never met an Iraqi intelligence officer and I have never solicited money from one."

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