By Robert Verkaik
The discovery of a box of documents in a burnt-out ministry in Baghdad has sparked an international hunt for evidence which will either destroy the reputation of a controversial Labour MP or end with large dollops of egg on the face of the editor of a famous broadsheet newspaper.
So much is at stake that George Galloway and The Daily Telegraph will already have ordered their lawyers to leave no stone unturned in the search for the killer fact that will lead one of them to victory in a libel court in London.
The Daily Telegraph will have to support all its claims against Mr Galloway. If it can’t, the paper will still be able to fall back on the defence of qualified privilege, providing it can show that there was a strong public interest in publishing a story that was based on what appeared to be genuine documents.
The initial focus of the Telegraph’s inquiries will be Mr Galloway’s financial dealings, and particularly the accounts of the Mariam Appeal, the fund frequently referred to in the alleged Iraqi intelligence documents. Under the civil procedure rules of disclosure Mr Galloway will be under a duty to reveal any financial information which could help or harm his case. If he has been hiding any financial transactions with the Iraqi government, then the paper should know about them before it goes to trial.
Galloway’s lawyers will make much of the fact that little effort has been made to identify the Iraqi agent who signs himself the chief of the Iraqi intelligence service. His evidence will be crucial because it is his memo to the office of Saddam Hussein on 3 January 2000 upon which the allegations hang.
A more mouth-watering prospect is a courtroom appearance by Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister with whom Mr Galloway is alleged to have done a secret deal in respect of the oil-for-food programme. Mr Aziz gave himself up to the Americans on Thursday.