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Total charged with Iraq oil-for-food corruption

The French oil giant Total has been charged with influence-peddling in the UN’s oil-for-food programme in Iraq in the 1990s, the first time a company in France’s CAC 40 stock index has been investigated for corruption. On 27 February a judge decided to charge Total and other defendants, the company confirmed Tuesday.

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“In early 2010… a new investigating judge decided to place Total SA under formal investigation on bribery charges as well as complicity and influence peddling,” the company said in its annual report published last week. The information was confirmed by a lawyer speaking to the AFP news agency.

The UN oil-for-food programme which operated from 1996 to 2003, allowed Sadam Hussein’s heavily-sanctioned regime to sell oil to buy humanitarian supplies.

 A French investigation was opened in 2002 to look into allegations of Total employees and other French officials paying off Iraqi officials in return for preferential rights to purchase oil at a discount through the programme.

 But this is the first time company itself has been charged. Total has rejected accusations.

“The Company believes that its activities related to the oil-for-food programme have been in compliance with this program, as organized by the UN in 1996,” the company said in its annual report.

Prosecutors last September recommended that charges be dropped against former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie, along with all employees and former employees.

The Investigating judge, Xavière Simeoni, had determined there was not enough evidence. But a new judge, Serge Tournaire, has not dropped the case and has brought charges against the company.

The oil-for-food programme was plagued with mismanagement and corruption involving UN employees and hundreds of companies around the world.

A UN inquiry led by the former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, found that 2,200 companies had paid out a total of 1.8 billion dollars (1.3 billion euros) to win supply deals. Of those, 180 were French.

In September 2009, the British bridge building company Mabey and Johnson was ordered to pay a 3.6 million euro fine for paying bribes. The Swiss oil trader Vitol was ordered by a New York court to pay a 17.5 million dollar (13 million euro) fine In 2007 for paying off Iraqi officials to win oil contracts. Vitol has also been charged in France.

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