Total charged with corruption over Iraqi oil-for-food project

French judge alleges that oil giant paid bribes to Saddam Hussein's officials

Total, the French oil giant which has hundreds of petrol stations across the UK, was charged with corruption by a Parisian court yesterday over its role in the scandal-ridden Iraqi oil-for-food programme.

A lawyer for the company, Jean Veil, said it was accused of bribing officials in the regime of the former dictator Saddam Hussein and complicity in dealing in stolen property. The charges were first mentioned in the group's annual report, published in February, and said the chief executive, Christophe de Margerie, and a number of former employees had also been indicted.

Mr de Margerie, who was Total's head of exploration and production in the late 1990s, was first indicted in 2006. The Paris prosecutor's office had recommended last September that all charges against the company and its employees be dropped. However, a new judge, who took on the case at the start of the year, has decided to launch fresh proceedings against France's highest-earning company.

Mr Veil said the charges had come "against all odds". In a statement, Total added that it was confident of being cleared of the charges, saying it "believes its activities related to the oil-for-food programme have been in compliance with this programme, as organised by the United Nations in 1996."

A report by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve who chaired a UN-sponsored inquiry into alleged corruption in the oil-for-food scheme, found that some of the companies involved paid bribes and surcharges to Iraqi government officials, and uncovered evidence of "illicit, unethical and corrupt behaviour". However, Total said the Volcker report cleared it of any wrongdoing when it was published five years ago.

The $64bn oil-for-food programme, launched in 1996, was designed to allow Iraq, then subject to crippling international sanctions, to sell limited quantities of oil to buy humanitarian supplies. But the project, which came to an end months after the US-led coalition toppled Saddam's administration in 2003, was plagued with mismanagement and corruption involving UN employees and more than 2,000 firms from some 60 countries.

An inquiry by the US Government Accountability Office in 2003 found that the former Iraqi regime had made $10.1bn in illegal revenues. The case against Total was launched in 2002 but the French investigating judge took no action against the company. Total said yesterday that the inquiry had been restarted "without any new evidence being added to the affair".

Anti-corruption campaigners welcomed the move as a step towards resolving the inquiry. Alexandra Wrage, the president of Trace International, said: "France, the seat of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has been sluggish in enforcing its commitments under that anti-bribery convention. The French have stood on the sidelines while other OECD countries, most notably the US, the UK and Germany, have brought dozens of enforcement actions.

"It will be interesting to see whether the Total matter gets any momentum this time, or whether this is another false start on allegations that are almost a decade old."

Dodgy dealings: The roll of shame

* Total is by no means alone in facing embarrassing bribery allegations. Last month, UK's arms group BAE Systems admitted a charge of "conspiring to make false statements" in a US court over payments made to Czech and Hungarian governments officials, and bribes in connection with Saudi Arabia's £40bn Al-Yamamah fighter jet deal. A Serious Fraud Office investigation in the UK was dropped after then Prime Minister Tony Blair argued that it would threaten national security.

* Three UK board members of French infrastructure company Alstom were arrested in dawn raids two weeks ago on suspicion of bribery, corruption, conspiracy to bribe, money-laundering and false accounting as part of the SFO's "Operation Ruthenium". The arrests followed a complaint by Swiss officials.

* The US chemicals group Innospec, which has a plant in Cheshire, was fined £12.7m in the UK last month after admitting bribing Indonesian officials. The investigation was part of a wider inquiry into the company's role in the oil-for-food programme.

* German car maker Daimler pleaded guilty last week to bribery charges, paying $185m to settle a case concerning its sales practices in Russia, Germany and China.

* Four China-based executives of mining giant Rio Tinto were jailed last week after admitting to bribery and espionage charges. The company sacked the four and said that an internal inquiry had cleared it over any wrongdoing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Administrator

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a vibrant and establishe...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests