January 21, 2013 8:11 pm

Total ‘oil-for-food’ trial opens in Paris

Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of Total, appeared in court in Paris on Monday for the first day of a trial over allegations of corruption around the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

The judge pursuing the case has accused the French oil company of bribery and corruption between 2000 and 2002, saying that it knowingly purchased oil from Saddam Hussein’s regime on which so-called “surcharges” had been paid to finance commissions for Iraqi officials.

The company also faces allegations of influence peddling, while Mr de Margerie – head of the company’s Middle East division at the time – is accused of enabling the misuse of company assets. He denies any wrongdoing and is defending the allegations.

Total said on Monday that “there are no facts to back up these allegations”, pointing out that the judge had decided to press on with the trial in spite of two previous recommendations from Paris public prosecutors that the case should be dismissed.

It denied being “informed that surcharges had been paid on some of the oil purchased in the market... Total legally purchased the oil concerned. In all cases, the oil was UN approved,” it said.

The oil-for-food programme, which ran from 1996 until the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, allowed sanctions-hit Iraq, then under Saddam Hussein, to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods.

A committee headed by Paul Volcker, the former US Federal Reserve chairman, alleged in 2005 that more than 2,000 companies from 66 states were involved in illicit payments, whether on oil purchases or goods sales, which allowed Iraq to raise $1.8bn in illicit revenue.

Total said that it was not faulted in the Volcker report.

Mr de Margerie is one of 18 individual defendants, including retired diplomats and French politicians. He is set to give testimony on February 5, with the trial scheduled to run until February.

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