Elf scam bosses given jail terms

16th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 12 (AFP) - A Paris court on Wednesday handed jail terms to three former top executives at the French oil giant Elf, bringing to a close a trial that exposed a massive system of government-sponsored corruption at the once state-owned firm.

PARIS, Nov 12 (AFP) - A Paris court on Wednesday handed jail terms to three former top executives at the French oil giant Elf, bringing to a close a trial that exposed a massive system of government-sponsored corruption at the once state-owned firm.

The criminal court sentenced former chief executive Loik Le Floch-Prigent, 60, and his deputy Alfred Sirven, 76, to five years in prison, while Elf's so-called "Mr Africa" Andre Tarallo, also 76, was handed a four-year jail term.

All three also were ordered to pay heavy fines – EUR 375,000 (USD 435,000) for Le Floch-Prigent, EUR 1 million for Sirven and EUR 2 million for Tarallo.

The three senior Elf officials were found guilty of amassing small personal fortunes - to the tune of a total EUR 305 million (USD 350 million) - by skimming off the top of illicit slush funds run by the company.

Tarallo, the only one of the three key defendants not already serving time in a French jail on related offenses, was immediately remanded into custody.

Thirty-four other defendants were tried along with Le Floch-Prigent, Sirven and Tarallo. The court was continuing to read out the verdicts against the accused in the case, one of the biggest ever corruption trials in France.

Wednesday's rulings wrapped up an eight-year probe into the affair, which offered insights into the culture of bribes, commissions and easy money that reigned in the early 1990s at Elf, which was privatized in 1994.

The three men were convicted of embezzling hundreds of millions of euros from the oil giant via secret accounts run by Elf as part of an elaborate system of influence-buying to secure lucrative contracts, especially in Africa.

Sirven allegedly received jewels, a villa in Ibiza and a chateau in central France; Tarallo got property in Paris and on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica; and Le Floch-Prigent got five million euros to pay for his divorce.

The other 34 accused are former Elf executives and private middlemen who allegedly arranged pay-offs around the world and helped hide the funds in secret accounts in Switzerland, Luxembourg and other tax havens.

Le Floch-Prigent, who ran the company from 1989 to 1993, is believed to have authorized the system of bribes and commissions, which saw millions paid out to win important deals for the French oil company.

Sirven was found guilty of organizing the massive slush funds via the covert accounts, while prosecutors identified Tarallo as "number two in Elf and number one in Africa".

The former Elf boss and Sirven partially admitted their guilt at trial, but argued that the ingrained culture of graft and free-flowing cash at Elf had led them astray.

Tarallo, however, had repeatedly professed his innocence, insisting that the property in Paris and Corsica he allegedly misappropriated were instead assets belonging to Gabonese President Omar Bongo.

The trial produced a slew of damning revelations, including tales of bribes to African leaders and the illegal funding of French political parties with Elf money that came back into France as "retrocommissions".

Le Floch-Prigent also told the court that he had even won approval from late Socialist president Francois Mitterrand to use company money to pay for his divorce.

Elf, which was privatized in 1994, is now part of French giant Total -- formerly known as TotalFinaElf.

AFP

Subject: French news









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