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France's Total faces corruption investigation

France's Total faces corruption investigation

A judge brought preliminary charges against Total SA over allegations the French oil giant bribed foreign officials as part of its role in the scandal-ridden U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.
An investigating judge filed the preliminary charges as part of a long-running French investigation into corruption in the program, according to details in the company's annual financial report that it put online Friday.
Total also faces preliminary charges of complicity and influence peddling in the case.
Investigators suspect that millions of dollars were used as under-the-table commissions to obtain entry to countries like Iraq _ then under a U.N. embargo _ and Russia, where Total was trying to get a foothold.
Total insists it has abided by the rules of the U.N. oil-for-food program, which started in the 1990s and allowed Saddam Hussein to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods.
Under French law, preliminary charges mean the investigating magistrates have strong reason to suspect involvement in a crime, and give them more time to continue investigating.
A lawyer for Total criticized the decision to file preliminary charges against the company because an investigation by another French magistrate was completed in 2007, and last September the prosecutor's office recommended that charges be dropped against Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie and eight other Total employees.
"It's a very strange situation, where a new judge has reread the dossier and now considers that it's possible Total committed corruption even though there are no new elements in the dossier, because the investigation was completed" over two years ago, said Jean Veil, a lawyer for the oil company.
The $64 billion oil-for-food program was the biggest humanitarian program in U.N. history. A U.N.-sanctioned investigation led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker found widespread corruption. Its final report in October 2005 accused more than 2,200 companies from some 40 countries of colluding with Saddam Hussein's regime to bilk the humanitarian program of $1.8 billion.
Under the program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, Iraq was allowed to sell oil provided that most of the money went to buy humanitarian goods. It was aimed at easing Iraqi suffering under U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and was a lifeline for 90 percent of the country's population.
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Associated Press writer Pierre-Antoine Souchard in Paris contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-15 08:21 GMT+08:00