PARIS Feb 12 Paris prosecutors asked a criminal
court on Tuesday to fine French energy company Total
750,000 euros ($1 million) for corrupting foreign agents during
the U.N. oil-for-food programme for Iraq a decade ago.
At the same time, prosecutor Ariane Amson said she doubted
that Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie was guilty in the
affair and was "not convinced" he was complicit in the misuse of
Prosecutors said it was for the court to suggest appropriate
penalties, if any, for de Margerie and for Swiss oil trader
Vitol, accused of corruption. Vitol has declined comment, but
tried unsuccessfully earlier in the trial to have the case in
France found unconstitutional because it had already been
convicted of oil-for-food offences in a New York court.
The trial is expected to finish on Feb. 20 after which the
court will rule.
Total, France's second-largest company by market
capitalisation, was accused of bribery, complicity and influence
peddling at the time of the programme, designed to allow Saddam
Hussein's Iraq to buy humanitarian goods through United
Nations-controlled oil sales at a time of international
An independent inquiry led by the former U.S. Federal
Reserve chairman Paul Volcker found in 2005 that the 1996-2003
programme had been undermined by kickbacks and payments to
prominent individuals with access to Iraqi oil.
Total denies knowing it was paying so-called "surcharges" on
each barrel of oil that went to the Iraqi government, in
violation of U.N. regulations, and on Monday told the court it
had taken precautions to avoid such payments. It argued the
opaque system relied on a series of middlemen who often
themselves did not know they were being charged.
Amson asked that Total be fined for corrupting the foreign
agents between October 2000 and 2002, but that other charges,
relating to influence peddling and complicity, be thrown out.
Therefore, the fine suggested by the prosecutor was lower
than the maximum of 1.88 million euros ($2.5 million) that the
company could have faced.
Seventeen individuals, besides de Margerie, are defendants
in the trial.
($1 = 0.7427 euros)
(Reporting By Chine Labbé; Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing
by Anthony Barker)