Total and CEO acquitted in Iraq oil-for-food scandal

Mon Jul 8, 2013 12:03pm EDT
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By Gérard Bon and Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - French oil giant Total TOTF.PA was acquitted on Monday of corruption charges related to the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq by a Paris criminal court.

The court also cleared 18 individuals, including Total CEO Christophe de Margerie who was accused of misusing assets in the decade-old case into corruption in the program, in which an illicit $1.8 billion flowed to Saddam Hussein's government.

Swiss oil trader Vitol VITOLV.UL was found not guilty of corrupting foreign public agents and Charles Pasqua, an ex-French interior minister, was cleared of passive peddling of influence and corrupting foreign public agents.

Designed to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people, the oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to sell some of its oil, despite the embargo imposed after the first Gulf War, in exchange for humanitarian goods.

The program became mired in controversy after an independent inquiry, led by the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, disclosed in 2005 a system of kickbacks, surcharges and payments to individuals with access to Iraqi oil.

Total, Europe's third-largest oil group by market capitalization, was accused of bribery, complicity and influence peddling during the 1996-2003 program.

But during the trial that began in January, prosecutors struggled to identify which Total executives might have been aware of how the U.N. program was being illegally manipulated and whether they had given orders to participate regardless.

De Margerie, 61, who at the time headed Total's Middle East operations, had testified he did not know about Baghdad's system of oil allocations to influential individuals, from which his company benefited.   Continued...

The logo of French oil company Total is pictured during the company's 2012 annual result presentation in Paris February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer