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Last Updated: Friday, 25 April, 2003, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Probe into Galloway's Mariam Appeal
Labour MP, George Galloway, left, sits next to Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz in 1999
George Galloway with Iraq's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz in 1999

An appeal founded by Labour MP George Galloway to help an Iraqi girl suffering from leukaemia is to be investigated by the Charity Commission, said the attorney general's office.

The investigation will take the form of "further fact finding" into claims that some of the Mariam Appeal's funds were used for non-charitable purposes.

The MP has written to Lord Goldsmith saying the timing of the investigation is effectively a response to "this atmosphere of a witch hunt".

The Glasgow Kelvin MP has already said that he intends to take legal action against the Daily Telegraph over its allegations that he received money from the Iraqi regime.

Mr Galloway strenuously denies the claims.

Going to court?

He has also issued details of property he owns amid what he says are "deliberately misleading comments" over how much he is worth.

A statement issued by the attorney general's office issued on Thursday said: "Following preliminary inquiries into a complaint that the Mariam Appeal may have used charitable funds for non-charitable purposes, the attorney general has agreed with the Charity Commission that the Commission will undertake further fact finding."

Lord Goldsmith will be told of the results of the probe.

Given your, to many, extraordinary decision to declare the war on Iraq legal ...it would be perverse for you to now declare my anti-war work illegal under British law
George Galloway
Letter to attorney general

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission told BBC News Online that Mariam Appeal was not registered as a charity.

She added: "But we have jurisdiction to take action on funds raised in England and Wales on charitable grounds."

Mr Galloway said, in his letter to the attorney general, that he had always made clear the appeal was a campaigning organisation that had consistently pushed for the lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq.

Mr Galloway wrote: "The Mariam Appeal which I founded has been involved in highly publicised, highly political campaigning against the government's policies for some years without a whisper of complaint from anyone in your department.

'Witch hunt'

"Even the Foreign Office, whose policy we were directly challenging, has dealt with the Mariam Appeal on the basis that we were a political campaign.

"For you now to respond to this atmosphere of witch hunt against me in the way which has been reported would be unworthy of you."

He added: "Given your, to many, extraordinary decision to declare the war on Iraq legal, despite the opinions of the UN secretary general and international law experts around the world, it would be perverse for you to now declare my anti-war work illegal under British law."

The appeal had arranged for medicine to be delivered to Iraq and organised visits by both journalists and politicians.

George Galloway meeting Saddam Hussein last year

Mr Galloway said all the activities had been well known to the funds three main backers: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat, the appeal's chairman.

His own travel on behalf of the appeal had been declared in the House of Commons Register of Members' Interests, said Mr Galloway.

Iraq had given nothing to the appeal. Of its 1m funds more than 500,000 came from UAE in 1999, the Saudis gave 100,000 in 1999 and 2000 and the "bulk of the rest" came from Mr Zureikat.

Earlier, Mr Galloway described the accusation that he received hundreds of thousands of pounds from Saddam Hussein as a "lie of fantastic proportions".

Writing in the left-wing magazine Tribune, he said the allegations by the Telegraph were a "helpful diversion from the invasion, destruction and occupation of Iraq which is going disastrously wrong".

On Thursday, the newspaper alleged Saddam Hussein tried to protect Mr Galloway from the potential scandal of being linked to the Iraqi intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat.

It followed claims earlier this week that the paper had found documents in Iraq suggesting that Mr Galloway was given a percentage of Iraqi oil sales, through the oil-for-food programme - which, it calculated, would be worth about 375,000 a year.

Mr Galloway has strenuously denied the allegations and pledged to take legal action for libel.

Telegraph editor Charles Moore said the newspaper stood by its story and would "look forward" to a legal battle with Mr Galloway.

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