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George calls in Speaker over sting

Galloway wants a probe in the 'fake sheikh' case to protect the integrity of the House, writes Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2006 20:16 IST
Vijay Dutt

Everyone has found Galloway a hard nut to crack.

Now, he has taken on the 'fake sheikh', who allegedly did a sting operation for the News of the World which floored Sven Eriksson, the England Football manager and coach. The Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Galloway, has now referred an alleged attempt to criminally implicate him by its reporters to the Metropolitan police and also to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The attempt, it is claimed, was made on Saturday evening when two men claiming to be Sam Fernando and Pervaiz Khan said that they could provide illicit funding to him and to the party. He rejected the overture. The two also made anti-Semitic remarks which they encouraged Galloway to share. He did not.

Galloway said it transpired that the two men were actually working for the News of the World and that one of them was Mazher Mahmood, otherwise known as the 'fake sheikh', who enticed Eriksson to Dubai for another coaching job and which made him give a definite date when he would leave his job to the Football Association.

"This was a blatant and outrageous attempt to suborn a member of parliament," Galloway said. But it was so heavy-handed that I immediately smelled a rat. The two claimed to be Muslims but were ignorant of Muslim customs and practices. The press have, of course, an obligation to investigate corruption, but this was a blatant attempt to create it and is completely unacceptable."

Galloway said that he had a photograph of Mahmood "from which he was able to identify the 'fake sheikh' and that he now intended to make it widely available. He is also demanding that the News of the World now make available all their material, including tape recordings made of conversations.

In a statement to the media, he said, "I am setting out the circumstances of my encounter with what turned out to have been the notorious 'fake sheikh' of the News of the World. Mohamed Ali, the chief executive of the Islam Channel (for whom my party colleague Yvonne Ridley works) approached me several times to say that "somebody" wanted to meet me who was "keen to help Respect" and the "community".

"I was a little suspicious, so sidestepped the "offer" for several weeks. Finally, after much prompting from Ali, I agreed to meet this "someone" after my radio show on Saturday, March 25, at 10.30 pm. When I checked my schedule and found the dinner was at the Dorchester, my suspicions deepened.

"I arrived and met Ali sitting with someone who didn't introduce himself, but who later gave me a card saying he was Sam Fernando of Falcon Group International, bearing a 64 Knightsbridge address. We were quickly joined by a man who embraced me in the South Asian custom (odd, as he didn't say who he was). Neither of the two looked at all like an Islamist, absolutely not, it's completely illegal."

"They then made offensive statements about Jewish people and invited me to agree with them. For example, when I said the Daily Express was the worst pro-war, anti-Muslim paper in the land they asked, "Because it's owned by a Jew?"

In his letter to Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner he wrote, "I am writing to bring to your notice an urgent and important matter concerning an attempt to break the electoral laws of this country over foreign funding. As you will see from the enclosed, I was targeted by Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World, otherwise known as the 'fake sheikh', and his colleague, going by the name of Sam Fernando. They sought to implicate me in what would be illegal political funding and sought my agreement to anti-Semitic views, including Holocaust denial.

"I learnt subsequently that they were seeking a meeting for the same purpose with my parliamentary colleague Jeremy Corbyn MP. I have written to the Speaker of the House of Commons as I believe this attempt to subvert the political process constitutes a breach of parliamentary privilege.

"I believe you should treat this matter seriously, especially as the Deputy Assistant Commissioner is already holding two investigations into funding of political parties. I have a picture of Mahmood, which I am considering circulating to all Members of the House of Commons and more widely in order to protect others from this unscrupulous individual."

He also wrote to the the Speaker's Office, "I am writing to bring to your notice an urgent and important matter concerning parliamentary privilege on which I ask that you launch an immediate investigation in order to protect the integrity of the House of Commons, its members and the political process."