The sub-committee, chaired by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, claimed that Galloway funnelled allocations through a fund he established in 1998 to help a 4-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from leukaemia, and received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003.

"I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader, and neither has anyone on my behalf," Galloway said on Tuesday.

"I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and American governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas."

The daylong hearing was reviewing three major reports from the sub-committee of the US Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, which studied in great detail how Saddam allegedly made billions in illegal oil sales despite UN sanctions imposed in 1991 after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Coleman said that Galloway and others, who received oil allocations, including prominent Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, then paid kickbacks to Saddam as part of the deal.

Iraq war

Coleman claimed that Hussein received more than US $300,000 in surcharges on allocations involving Galloway.

"Senior Hussein regime officials informed the sub-committee that the allocation holders - in this case, Galloway - were ultimately responsible for the surcharge payment and, therefore, would have known of the illegal, under-the-table payment," he said.

"I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader, and neither has anyone on my behalf. I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and American governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas"

British MP George Galloway

Galloway rejected that and accused Coleman of never having contacted him about the charges. He also defended his opposition to the UN sanctions and the US-led Iraq war.

"I gave my heart and soul to stop you from committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq," Galloway said. "And I told the world that the case for war was a pack of lies."

The oil-for-food programme, which ran from 1996-2003, was designed to let Hussein's government sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods to help the Iraqi people cope with crippling UN sanctions.

But Hussein peddled influence by allegedly awarding favoured politicians, journalists and others vouchers for oil that could then be resold at a profit.

He is also said to have smuggled oil to Turkey, Jordan and Syria outside the programme, often with the explicit approval of the US and the rest of the UN Security Council.

Oil-for-food programme

As well as pointing the finger at politicians from Britain, France and Russia, committee investigators also argue that a Texas-based oil company, Bayoil, was involved in Hussein's oil-for-food schemes.

Security Council members including the US often looked the other way, they said.

"On the one hand, the United States was at the UN trying to stop Iraq from imposing illegal surcharges on oil-for-food contacts," Democratic Senator Carl Levin said at the start of the hearing.

Galloway's accusers say he
profited from selling Iraqi oil

"On the other hand, the US ignored red flags that some US companies might be paying those same illegal surcharges."

While many of the oil-for-food claims are not new, rarely have the allegations been spelled out with so much detail or scope.

Coleman's investigators have interviewed former top Iraqi officials and businessmen, who provided a behind-the-scenes look at how Saddam's grand scheme worked.

Coleman's committee claims that Galloway received allocations worth 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003.

Graft accusations

It also alleges that former French interior minister Charles Pasqua received allocations worth 11 million barrels from 1999 to 2000.

Documents released on Monday by the minority Democrats on Coleman's sub-committee examined two issues - Bayoil's involvement in oil-for-food, and a single instance that saw Hussein's government smuggle more than seven million barrels of oil out of the Iraqi port of Khor al-Amaya, apparently with US knowledge, in the weeks before the invasion in 2003.

"I gave my heart and soul to stop you (the US) from committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that the case for war was a pack of lies"

George Galloway

The report found that Bayoil imported 200 million barrels over two years starting in September 2000 and sold it to US oil companies.

That was at a time when Hussein was trying to tinker with the price of oil so that when he sold it, companies could be compelled to pay him kickbacks, it is alleged.

The report claimed that Bayoil paid "directly or indirectly" $37 million in kickbacks to Hussein even at a time that the US and other members of the council had realised what Hussein was doing and began ordering price hikes to quash the kickbacks scheme.

Bayoil then sold the crude to US companies, although there is no evidence the companies knew about the kickbacks, the report said.