April 23, 2003



His lawyers have been mobilised, and at least one Labour MP offers support:

George Galloway, the Labour backbench MP, was locked in a battle to save his controversial political career as he launched a libel action against the Daily Telegraph last night.

Mr Galloway's lawyers acted as the paper accused him of taking as much as 370,000 pounds a year from Saddam Hussein in return for support for the fallen dictator.

"I think it's a miraculous set of circumstances that the Daily Telegraph walks through all the rubble of Baghdad and manages to find a file on George Galloway," said anti-war MP Jeremy Corbyn.

The same question is raised by intelligence experts:

Most intelligence experts claimed yesterday that the documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph are probably the real thing.

However, eyebrows were raised at the fact that they were unearthed with relative ease by a reporter for a British broadsheet which would naturally be critical of George Galloway.

The Guardian has a handy guide to the Galloway matter, as does the London Times.

David Blair, author of the original report, tells how he came to discover the damning documents:

The air was thick with choking clouds of dust and the looters were hammering and shouting in the rooms and corridors around us. Then my translator happened upon an orange box file with the Arabic label "Britain". Its interior was lined with tigerskin wallpaper.

Four blue folders, each stamped with the Iraqi eagle, lay inside. Opening the first, I happened upon George Galloway's letter nominating Fawaz Zureikat as his representative in Baghdad. Another folder contained a letter from Sir Edward Heath thanking the Iraqi representative in London for attending a luncheon in Salisbury.

Two more box files were labelled "Britain". Others were labelled "United States", "Security Council" and "France". Each appeared to contain all the appropriate documents that had crossed the desk of an Iraqi foreign minister.

Meanwhile, George now remembers that he just might have been in Baghdad close to the date cited in the documents:

Labour MP George Galloway - accused of being on Saddam Hussein's payroll - has admitted he could have been in Baghdad with the Iraqi Foreign Minister for Christmas 1999.

Mr Galloway told BBC's Newsnight he could have been in Baghdad with Tariq Aziz for Christmas 1999, just over a week before the memo is dated. The MP claimed he could not remember if he had visited then or the following December.

See here for clips that may assist George's memory. Other George-related money trouble looms, reports The Times:

The Attorney-General is considering action against the money-raising appeal set up by George Galloway which is at the centre of allegations that he was bankrolled by Saddam Hussein.

As the Labour MP began legal action for libel over the claims that he had received 375,000 pounds a year from the Baghdad regime, The Times has learnt that Lord Goldsmith, QC, is studying a separate complaint against him. It is based on an article in The Times showing that Mr Galloway promised to spend all the money raised by the Mariam Appeal on treating sick Iraqi children, but later used it to fund his travelling expenses.

The Mariam Appeal is highlighted in the purported Iraqi intelligence documents found in a Baghdad ministry.

Further from The Times on the Mariam Appeal:

George Galloway is notoriously sensitive and secretive about who paid for his globetrotting campaign to lift United Nations sanctions against Saddam Hussein.

Even close associates cannot say with confidence who was really paying for the Mariam Appeal and who was benefiting financially from its immeasurable pot of cash.

Mr Galloway chose not to register the appeal as a charity, so avoiding the scrutiny and transparency that would reassure the public about who was subsidising his foreign travel.

And The Sun delivers this almighty beating:

The world has produced some evil, twisted men throughout history. Saddam Hussein is one of them.

Treacherous Labour MP George Galloway is another.

There have long been questions over the way a nonentity backbencher like Galloway could afford his lavish lifestyle of fast cars and fast women.

His constant travel, always first class, could never be funded by an MP's pay or from proceeds of his litigious pursuit of so-called defamation claims.

Galloway is a silver-tongued bully who has always been surrounded by a cloud of suspicion over his shifty activities, his manipulation of other people's cash and his readiness to punch anyone he could not sue.

He left a slippery trail of scandal wherever he went, from the finances of the once mighty charity War on Want to the funding of his local constituency Labour Party.

A congenital liar, his favourite defence trick was total denial. If that failed, he would claim he had been misquoted.

The Sun's fence-sitting is uncharacteristic. More on George soon.

Posted by Tim Blair at April 23, 2003 11:39 AM