Former Elf oil chiefs jailed for stealing £208m

After the largest corruption trial in French history, three former senior officials of the Elf-Aquitaine oil company were jailed yesterday for embezzling tens of millions of pounds from Elf in the early 1990s.

The former company president, Loik Le Floch-Prigent, 60, and his former right-hand man, Alfred Sirven, 75, who went on the run in the Philippines for three years, were given five-year terms. The one-time head of the company's Africa section, André Tarallo, 76, was jailed for four.

Thirty-four other former Elf officials and associates were given lesser sentences in a judgment delayed for four months. The trial ended in July. The prosecution had said up to €300m (£208m) had been diverted from the company to secret accounts and to bribe foreign officials and leaders.

Investigators failed to substantiate claims that Elf had been a clandestine agency of the French state, funnelling cash to African leaders, and, once, the German Christian Democratic Party. In an earlier trial, the former foreign minister, Roland Dumas, was convicted of sharing in the Elf largesse but was acquitted on appeal.

The French state used its law on "defence secrecy" to prevent magistrates investigating more deeply the wider allegations. The prosecution was unable to present evidence on accusations, including charges from M. Dumas, that money from Elf was used illegally to fund mainstream French political parties.

M. Le Floch-Prigent admitted he had "left the rails" and taken advantage of Elf funds. The presiding judge, Michel Desplan, said yesterday that Le Floch-Prigent was the ringleader in pillaging the then state-owned company.

All three former officials of Elf were also fined sums ranging from €2m to €375,000. Maurice Bidermann, 67, a French industrialist, and friend of Le Floch-Prigent, was given a one-year jail sentence with a further two years suspended and a €1m fine.

A similar sentence was imposed on Le Floch-Prigent's former wife, Fatima Belaid, whose €5m divorce settlement was paid by Elf.