France's Total fined 750,000 euros over Iraq 'oil for food' graft

26th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

French energy giant Total was ordered on appeal Friday to pay 750,000 euros for siphoning cash from the UN "oil-for-food" programme that aided sanctions-hit Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Total was among more than a dozen individuals and companies that had been cleared of corruption in 2013 after an eight-year investigation.

Among those cleared was France's former interior minister Charles Pasqua, who died last June, aged 88.

The Swiss-based oil group Vitol was fined 300,000 euros ($330,000) for irregularities in Friday's judgement, on top of $17.5 million it paid in 2007 after reaching agreement with the District Attorney of New York.

The convictions Friday stemmed from the $64 billion (54 billion euro) UN programme that allowed Iraq, then under crippling international sanctions, to sell limited quantities of oil to buy humanitarian supplies between 1996 and 2003.

France's former ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Bernard Merimee, and ex-diplomat Serge Boidevaix were fined 50,000 and 75,000 euros, respectively.

The court meted out fines ranging from 3,000 euros suspended to 100,000 euros to 11 defendants, while one was acquitted.

Total's lawyer Jean Veil said he was "disappointed" by the 750,000 euro fine slapped on his client, the maximum possible at the time of the wrongdoing.

Saddam forced foreign companies involved in the programme to pay a 10-percent surcharge -- accounted for as "transport costs" or "after-sales service" -- which in reality went to the Iraqi regime's coffers.

A UN inquiry led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker alleged in 2005 that the 2,200 companies from 66 countries involved in the programme had paid a total of $1.8 billion in kickbacks to win supply deals. Of those firms, 180 were French.

- Annan took blame -

Kofi Annan, who was UN secretary general at the time, assumed responsibility for management lapses in the programme, but ruled out resigning.

Many members of the US Congress, furious over Annan's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- which he called "illegal" because it was not supported by the UN Security Council -- had clamoured for his resignation over the scandal.

The affair reached close to home when it emerged that Cotecna, a Swiss company that employed Annan's son Kojo, had won a large contract under the oil-for-food programme.

Appeals on the acquittals of 14 companies including Renault Trucks and Legrand of France and European multi-national Schneider Electric will be heard by the end of the year.

The court ruled that it could not pass judgement on four of the companies because they had reached agreements with the US Department of Justice under which they paid millions in fines.

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© 2016 AFP

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