George Galloway, leader of the Respect Party, insisted in a 2004 letter to the Attorney General that no money paid to the Mariam Appeal came from Iraq, even though the Charity Commission and a parliamentary committee later said the charity’s trustees had not properly scrutinised funds received by the charity, newly released documents show.
The Mariam Appeal was set up in 1998 by Galloway, then the Labour Party MP for Glasgow Kelvin, to provide medical assistance and treatment to Iraqis. Galloway was one of its trustees. It had received just less than £1.5m by the time it ceased operating in early 2003, and also campaigned to end UN sanctions on Iraq, deeming these to be the cause of ill health in the country.
It was never registered with the Charity Commission, although a report by the regulator, published in June 2007, said that it should have been.
The report said that Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian businessman and trustee of the charity, donated more than £448,000 to the charity, with at least £190,700 coming from contracts under the UN Oil for Food programme.
The report said it was not the regulator’s responsibility to say whether such payments were illegal, but said: "As Mr Zureikat made his donations to the appeal from commissions and other payments derived from the programme, the commission has concluded that these donations came from improper sources." It said that the trustees of the charities had failed to make sufficient inquiries about the source of the funding to establish whether it was proper and in the interests of the appeal to accept them.
The following month, a report by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee said: "We believe Galloway was complicit in the concealment of the true source of the funds for the Mariam Appeal." It also described his refusal to investigate the source of substantial donations as "clearly irresponsible" and recommended he be suspended from parliament for 18 days over the matter.
In a letter newly released by the Attorney General's office, dated 24 April 2003 from Galloway to the Attorney General, the MP said the charity "received no money from Iraq". It said that alongside Zureikat, the other two major funders of the charity were the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The letter has recently been released under the Freedom of Information Act to Dominic Kennedy, a journalist at The Times. Kennedy previously had an application to force the commission to release documents relating to three inquiries the regulator had carried out into the Mariam Appeal rejected by the Supreme Court.
A spokesman for Galloway said the MP had been given assurances by Zureikat about the provenance of donations and that there was "not a shred of evidence" that they came from Iraq.
The spokesman said: "Dominic Kennedy is on a crusade against George Galloway. There’s nothing new here. It’s a politically motivated attack with the intention of influencing the outcome of the election."
Galloway is currently a parliamentary candidate in Bradford West, a seat he has held since 2012.
The Times today carries a piece from Kennedy about the 2003 letter and a separate editorial on the matter called "The voters of Bradford West should seize the chance to punish George Galloway".