The Zureikat link

An intriguing passage from an otherwise ‘heard it all before’ piece on Galloway in the Sunday Herald:

“There is no question that Fawaz Zureikat was closely involved with our campaign. He was the chairman of it and virtually every British journalist that passed through Baghdad and was helped by us to get interviews and meetings was hosted by him as the chairman of the Mariam Appeal and a businessman doing business in Iraq. The idea that this was some kind of surprise is ridiculous.”

The Mariam Appeal, as Galloway has previously admitted, received support from the king of the United Arab Emirates and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, but its principal benefactor was Zureikat, a businessman who made money trading in Iraq. “This is open to criticism but that is all,” says Galloway. “None of those individuals ever gave me a penny.”

It is indeed open to criticism. The report merely refers to Zureikat as ‘trading in Iraq’ but Zureikat is open about the fact that he made money out of the Oil for Food scam.

Did that oil money go directly into the Mariam Appeal? We don’t know that. All we know is Zureikat funded Galloway’s campaigning. A man who profited from the misery of the Iraqi people by doing shady deals with Saddam’s regime gave money to a ‘charity’ which had George Galloway as its main front man and which paid for Galloway’s extensive foreign travel.

In fact he gave around £300,000 according to another Sunday Herald article two years ago where Galloway explained the Mariam Appeal’s financing:

‘Around £500,000 came from the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia gave £100,000 and, of the total, £900,000 — the bulk — came from Zureikat.’

Where did all the money go? We don’t know and we won’t know until the accounts of the Mariam Appeal are finally made public. For a reason he has yet to explain, Galloway allowed the documentation to be moved out of the UK to the Middle East. I hope the Senate subcommittee ask him where the paperwork is and when he will finally keep his promise to make the documentation avaliable.

But let’s just recap on what we do know. The leader of Britain’s anti-war movement and a new ‘left-wing’ political party had, by his own admission, his political campaigning funded by a Saudi crown prince, the king of the United Arab Emirates and a business associate of the Saddam regime. I’m sure all you Stoppers can explain that away with a Pilgeresque ‘you can’t be choosy’.

For the rest of us then, what do we know about Mr Zureikat?

According to a Herald article in 23 April 2003 (no link avaliable):

His Mukhabarat secret service dossier refers to him glowingly as a “sympathiser with Iraq”. It recorded that he came from a Ba’athist family – his brother was once jailed for his political beliefs in Syria – and commended him for having supplied the Iraqi government with “developed civil and military equipment”.

However, it does not reveal whether they happened after the international arms embargo was imposed on Iraq following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Mr Zureikat was born in Jordan, but took a first degree in engineering at Basra University in southern Iraq. He went on to work in the Iraqi oil ministry and spent the 1970s with Iraqi oil exploration companies.

His later role at the Jordanian university was unclear last night, but it is known at the time of his tie-up with Mr Galloway that he was running a semi-conductors company with its head office in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

…..In a recent BBC Panorama programme on Iraq, Mr Zureikat fought Saddam’s corner. He said Iraqis had voted 100% for Saddam, not because 100% wanted him, but because 100% were against aggression from outside by the US against their own state.

There is some more insight into Mr.Zureikat in a fascinating (albeit stomach-churning) piece in the Independent on Sunday by Jonathan Elliott which gives us a taste of what Galloway’s associates were up to in Baghdad as they tried to set-up a pro-Iraq (During the Saddam era) cable tv station, the now defunct ATV:

His ample frame and twinkling smile were a frequent sight at our practically empty offices, and he would bearhug our boss and channel head Ron McKay, George Galloway’s closest business colleague (and campaign manager in Bethnal Green – Harry), affectionately calling him habibi. (They seemed to know each other very well.) He was generous and charming to his new recruits and showed us around the threadbare capital and its lanterned gardens by the Tigris, and he urged us to patronise its struggling French film festival.

He dined with us often in the capital’s smart quarter. In the top-notch Irbil restaurant he would hold court, flanked by Ron and his assistant. After dinner we’d suck on the hubble-bubble hillilahs and listen reverentially to his dream to create an English-language, pro-Iraq global TV operation. Hugely expensive bottles of Johnnie Walker would be procured and a deafening Iraqi pop duo would strike up. Suitably refreshed in a city where alcohol was hard to come by, we’d all return by taxi to the Al Mansour hotel. We loved Fawaz, our angel, and he seemed to be enjoying his role hugely.

Gradually the offices began to fill with high-quality Sony TV equipment. The very best in digital technology seemed to be pouring in – in a country besieged by sanctions that prohibited even the import of an ordinary pencil. (The graphite has a dual use, and could, theoretically, have been used in a nuclear weapons programme.)

Nobody asked too closely where this hi-tech equipment had come from or how it had got into the country, but then there was quite a lot about ATV that was a bit mysterious. Fawaz had made no secret of his success in various sanctions-busting publicity stunts over the years, but was a little less forthcoming about his ties with Saddam.

The ATV episode is another interesting one. According to the Sunday Herald, ATV (Arab Television) was: a London-based satellite channel that filmed and distributed the worldwide rights to the pre-war interview conducted in Baghdad between Tony Benn and Saddam Hussein.

Profit ATV made from that interview has been kept private. Industry sources say that global media interest could have delivered a multi-million pound profit. McKay in a newspaper interview says the figure is below £500,000.