DUBYA AND THE SLEAZE FACTOR; Insider Trading. Ripping off Taxpayers to Build Up His Fortune. a Bizarre Link to Osama Bin Laden. George W. Bush Has Been Accused of Them All. So What Is the Truth?

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTOPHER ANDERSEN

THE DUBYA DOSSIER

PART FOUR

AS HE leads the West towards war with Iraq, George 'Dubya' Bush projects the image of a straight-talking man of principle. But some critics in America suggest his past reveals a less honourable side. Here, in the final part of a major Mail series, the President's biographer looks back over his early years - as a baseball team boss and would-be oil tycoon - and examines his many brushes with scandal . . .

WHEN the Queen visited the White House for lunch in May 1992, George W. Bush was still largely unknown outside his own country. All the same, his parents - the then President, George Bush Sr, and his wife Barbara - were not taking any chances.

The First Lady told Her Majesty that she had seated her eldest son as far away as possible and instructed him not to speak.

'Why is that, Mr Bush?' the Queen asked Dubya, when they were introduced before the meal. 'Are you the black sheep of the family?' 'Yes, Your Majesty,' he nodded. ' suppose that's true.' Much to the Queen's amusement, Bush then lived up to his reputation by brightly asking her who the black sheep of her family was.

Chuckling, Her Majesty turned back to the First Lady. 'I don't know why you think your son is so dangerous,' she smiled with regal irony.

The whole exchange was classic Dubya - both the dangerous tendency to shoot from the lip, and the beguilingly unaffected charm.

In this instance, the Queen was clearly won over. Others, though, refuse to see the joke.

Bush's harshest critics suggest his boisterous, backslapping manner diverts attention from serious questions about his character and his business past.

They claim he has unabashedly used family connections to build his own fortune, and that taxpayers' money was used to help with a business venture that earned him millions.

They also accuse Bush of improprieties as an oilman and, in the most bizarre twist of all, point to what they say are curious links with the family of his greatest enemy - Osama Bin Laden.

Not surprisingly, his supporters dismiss such charges as poppycock.

They insist that Bush is a man of honour, who sticks firmly to his principles as a born-again Christian.

Certainly, the rigorous nature of Bush's religious faith is not in doubt.

Despite being prone to profanity in private, he takes a literal, hardline approach to the Bible's teachings.

When it emerged he had once told his mother that only Christians would go to heaven, unscrupulous political opponents paraphrased his views as: 'Bush tells Jews - go to hell.' Unsurprisingly, he was furious. 'I believe God decides who goes to heaven, not George W. Bush,' he said.

But those same opponents have ensured that the broader questions about his integrity continue to be asked. So what is the truth? Do the sleaze allegations hold water - or are they just more cheap smears?

Perhaps surprisingly, the best starting point for finding out is not Bush's political career, nor even his business record. Rather, it is the subject many believe to be the only one that really obsesses him: sport.

AS A CHILD, George Bush was unruly.

With his friends, one of his less wholesome activities was catching live frogs, stuffing fireworks in their mouths, and then hurling the animals like grenades so that they exploded in mid-air.

Even when it came to more conventional games, his behaviour was not always attractive - especially when his hatred of losing came through. At the age of 13, he used to play golf with a friend at a Houston country club where his mother was a member. Barbara Bush would be there as chaperone.

Invariably hitting a bad shot off the first tee, young Georgie would begin swearing. The profanities would escalate as the game progressed and his friend pulled in front. …