British lawmaker denies U.S. Senate committee claim he took oil-for-food allocations

British lawmaker George Galloway on Thursday denied new claims that he received millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for his support of Saddam Hussein's regime.

A U.S. Senate committee probing corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program released new evidence Wednesday purporting to show that Galloway and a prominent French politician accepted oil allocations under the scheme.

"This is a political hatchet job done by George W. Bush's committee in Washington," Galloway told Sky News television.

"The idea that the most scrutinized politician in Britain was secretly moonlighting as an oil trading billionaire is patently absurd. If I had millions of barrels of oil, I would be a billionaire."

Galloway, an outspoken opponent of U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, was re-elected to Parliament in national elections last week as a representative of his own anti-Iraq war Respect party.

Earlier Thursday, he issued a written statement denying the claims.

"Let me repeat. I have never traded in a barrel of oil, or any vouchers for it," he said. "And no one has acted on my behalf, trading in oil - Middle Eastern, olive, patchouli 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 U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations said Galloway received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003. The allegations have been made before, including in a report last October by U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer.

The committee also said a fund Galloway established in 1998 to help a 4-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from leukemia, Mariam Hamze, may have been used to conceal the transfer of 3 million barrels of oil.

However, Britain's charity watchdog said last June that the Mariam Appeal did not misuse funds for non-charitable purposes. The Charity Commission spent more than a year investigating the fund.

"This is merely the repetition of old allegations already discredited," Galloway told Sky News.

The Senate committee 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 750,000 pounds (US$1.4 million, Ђ1.1 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.

Galloway was expelled from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party after urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq.

He defeated Blair loyalist Oona King last week to win the parliamentary seat of Bethnal Green and Bow, a London district where about half the voters are Muslim.

Galloway is famed for telling Saddam during a 1994 visit to Iraq: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." Galloway later said he had been referring to the Iraqi people, not their leader.

MICHAEL McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writer

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Author`s name: Editorial Team