Galloway ally's U-turn on payments

Key points

• Galloway spokesman given cash by businessman accused of oil profiteering

• Ron McKay admits receiving $15,666 from Fawaz Zureikat

• Galloway and Zureikat accused of profiting from UN oil-for-food programme

Key quote

"I'm not going to be used as a stick to beat George Galloway with." - Ron McKay

Story in full GEORGE Galloway's attempts to clear his name over the oil-for-food scandal suffered another setback yesterday when his spokesman confirmed that he had received payments from a businessman identified as a beneficiary of the scheme.

Ron McKay said he had received $15,666 from Fawaz Zureikat, an associate of Mr Galloway, in August 2000.

Mr McKay had previously questioned the allegation, levelled against him by US investigators, telling one newspaper that the payment did not "ring any bells".

The former journalist has acted as a spokesman for Mr Galloway throughout the row, during which time the Respect MP has been accused by a US senate committee of benefiting financially from the scheme set up to let Saddam Hussein sell oil to buy food and medicine in spite of the sanctions imposed against his regime in Iraq.

The US committee published accusations against Mr Galloway, his wife Dr Amineh Abu Zayyad and their friend Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian businessman.

Earlier this week Mr Galloway was also named as a political beneficiary of the scheme by the independent committee investigating the scandal for the UN.

The committee found that Mr Galloway and Mr Zureikat had between them been allocated 18 million barrels of oil. Mr Galloway has denied profiting from the scheme.

Among the many accusations levelled by the independent inquiry committee led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker was that Mr Zureikat had paid $120,000 into Mr Galloway's wife's account in 2000. It was also alleged that the Mariam Appeal, which Mr Galloway chaired, received at least $446,000 in connection with several allocations granted under the oil-for-food programme.

Yesterday Mr McKay said he had now checked his bank statements and was able to confirm he had received a payment from Mr Zureikat and $15,666 had been transferred into his personal account in August 2000.

He said the payment went into a personal account by mistake and that it was intended to be sent to a business account, into which it was later moved.

"I've had many business dealings with Fawaz Zureikat over the years. He was a director of a company that we were in together," he said.

"The payment was nothing to do with oil. I have not benefited from it. It was later channelled to where it should have gone."

And he said that his confirmation of the payment should not be seen as in any way corroborating the claims made against Mr Galloway.

"I'm not going to be used as a stick to beat George Galloway with," he said.

Mr McKay had dealt with Mr Zureikat for more than 10 years and he argues the businessman was entitled to be paid commission on legitimate oil transactions.

He declined to reveal the nature of the business which triggered his payment, adding: "It is my business. I'm not a public figure. I'm not answerable to anybody."

Mr Galloway has mounted a fierce defence against the allegations levelled against him, telling US senators to put up or shut up and challenging them to charge him with perjury if they have evidence that he lied to them.

India said yesterday it was deeply concerned by "unverified references" made in the UN report which said the ruling Congress party and the country's foreign minister received favours from Saddam Hussein.

Russia also said it would investigate allegations that Russian companies and politicians were part of the massive corruption.

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