European lawmakers deny U.S. accusations they got oil from Saddam Hussein's regime

Two European politicians on Thursday adamantly denied accusations from a U.S. Senate committee that Saddam Hussein's regime allocated them millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for their support.

British lawmaker George Galloway called the claim that he traded Iraqi oil "patently absurd."

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua said he has already repeatedly denied having "received any benefit whatsoever in whatever form from the authorities or the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein."

The Senate committee, citing contracts, letters and interviews, set out evidence Wednesday to back claims that Galloway and Pasqua accepted oil allocations under the U.N. oil-for-food program for Saddam's Iraq. The U.N. program was designed to allow Iraq limited oil sales to pay for humanitarian goods.

Pasqua, 78, headed the French Interior Ministry from 1986-1988 under then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and again from 1993-1995 under Edouard Balladur. Once a Chirac loyalist, Pasqua supported Balladur against Chirac in presidential elections in 1995 that the French leader went on to win.

Now a senator, Pasqua appeared to suggest in his statement refuting the U.S. Senate committee's allegations of corruption that other French politicians should shoulder responsibility.

"Having not exercised governmental responsibilities in France since 1995, I expect that those who have directed the country's affairs since that date assume theirs," he said.

Pasqua noted that his name had popped up in January 2004 on a list published by an Iraqi newspaper of 270 people who allegedly profited from Iraqi oil sales. He also was named in a report last October by U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer as one of several officials who allegedly benefited from corruption in the U.N. program.

Pasqua said the Senate committee's probe reiterated the previous accusations against him "in large measure."

"I deny them one more time," Pasqua said.

Galloway, an outspoken opponent of U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, said the committee had done "a political hatchet job."

Speaking to Sky News television, he said: "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, who was expelled from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party after urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq, won re-election to Parliament last week as a representative of his own anti-Iraq war Respect party.

He also issued a statement saying he "never traded in a barrel of oil, or any vouchers for it."

He added: "And no one has acted on my behalf, trading in oil - Middle Eastern, olive, patchouli or any other - or in vouchers, whatever they are."

JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press Writer

On the photo: George Galloway

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