Russia scorns Senate oil claims

Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky has denied accusations from a US Senate committee that he accepted millions of dollars in Iraqi oil allocations.

The committee said Saddam Hussein's regime offered oil to Mr Zhirinovsky and two ex-presidential aides to win Russia's help in ending UN sanctions.

Russia's deputy prime minister told the Interfax news agency Moscow had seen no evidence to back up such claims.

The committee says its information came primarily from former Iraqi officials.

But Mr Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist MP, angrily denied the charges, saying he had seen "not a drop" of Iraqi oil.

"I did not sign a single contract, I did not receive a single cent from Iraq," he told a Moscow radio station.

Deputy Prime Minister Yury Fedotov was also dismissive.

"We have seen no materials that could prove or suggest that Russian companies or individuals which took part in the oil-for-food programme broke any law," he told Interfax.

The latest allegations come just days after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations accused former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and British MP George Galloway of receiving oil allocations, charges vigorously denied by both men.

Mr Galloway is intending to testify before the committee on Tuesday. Mr Pasqua said he had yet to be invited, but would defend himself "when the time comes".

"I don't intend to sit idly by," he said, accusing "certain people" of having used his name to commit fraud within the oil-for-food programme.

No receipts
The report is the latest in a series of publications from the Senate committee, as well as from a UN panel chaired by former US central banker Paul Volcker.

The Senate committee says much of information came from two former Iraqi officials, Tariq Aziz, the one-time Deputy Prime Minister, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former Vice-President.

It also said it drew on documents from Iraq's state oil firm and from US oil firm Bayoil - an intermediary whose managers were indicted by the US in April to conclude that millions of barrels were allocated to Mr Zhirinovsky, as well as former presidential aides Alexander Voloshin and Sergei Issakov.

Once allotted, the oil could then be sold on at a profit.

Alleging that Mr Issakov and Mr Zhirinovsky personally negotiated allocations, the report suggests the contracts could have brought profits of $16m to the Russian Presidential Council, which was headed at the time by Mr Voloshin, and $8.7m to Mr Zhirinovsky.

However, the report provides no direct evidence of receipt of any money.

Smuggled profits
About 30% of the oil Iraq sold via the UN-administered oil-for-food programme was allotted to Russia, it said.

Russia is an oil exporter, and therefore would have been unlikely to need it, the report says.

Although the trade of oil was sanctioned by the UN, from 2000 to 2002 Iraq took kickbacks from those to whom it sold oil.

According to the Iraq Survey Group, the body set up to scour the country for weapons of mass destruction, Iraq made as much as $1.5bn from the surcharges.

Much more - some $8bn - came from smuggling oil outside the oil-for-food programme through Turkey and Syria - with the US and UK turning a blind eye to the trade, many observers believe.