Total case suspects more bribes to Iran officials

25th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - The case of the boss of France's oil giant Total being hauled in for questioning by the financial police this week has once again raised the issue of bribes made to secure international deals.

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - The case of the boss of France's oil giant Total being hauled in for questioning by the financial police this week has once again raised the issue of bribes made to secure international deals.

Total's chief executive, Christophe de Margerie, was detained by French police on Wednesday.

He was released on Thursday but not before being placed under formal investigation on suspicion he had paid bribes to win a contract in Iran.

The company is suspected of paying top Iranian officials nearly 100 million Swiss francs (60 million euros, 80 million dollars) through two Swiss bank accounts to win a contract in 1997.

Total says that it had signed the Iran deal "in compliance with applicable law."

"The group is confident in its belief that the investigation will establish the absence of any illegal activities," it said following Margerie's release.

The World Bank estimates that a trillion dollars (750 billion euros) changes hands every year in suspect deals. According to the United Nations, the cost of corruption in some countries may amount to as much as 30 percent of gross domestic product.

And some, such as Transparency International, a group that monitors corruption around the world, believe that globalisation has increased, not decreased, its prevalence.

"In the 1990s, there was growth in corruption with the globalisation of financial circuits that facilitated the establishment of accounts in tax havens," said Jacques Terray, vice president of Transparency International's branch in France.

Typically, it is large infrastructure deals that are susceptible to bribery. There are large sums involved and a lot of interest in securing the deals and often poorly paid but well placed officials who get to sign off on a contract.

Oil contracts, arms deals or large public works projects are all obvious candidates for underhand shenanigans.

But water contracts are also increasingly suspicious according to Severine Teissier, president of French anti-corruption organisation Anticor.

She says that the exploitation of scarce water resources in some countries is a "web of corruption" and that water itself is becoming something of a "blue gold" not unlike oil, long known as black gold.

To combat the scourge international organisations have attempted to limit graft in recent years.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development drafted an agreement in 1997 banning companies in those countries that signed up to the deal from paying bribes to foreign government officials.

Thirty-six countries have signed it including the OECD's 30 members plus Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Estonia and Slovenia.

The United Nations put together an anti-corruption convention in 2003 that has been signed by 140 states, though not all have ratified it. The Council of Europe and the World Bank have developed anti-corruption plans as well.

But even nations that regularly appear at the respectable end of Transparency International's list of corrupt states can find themselves in the spotlight.

In mid-March, the OECD criticised Britain for dropping an investigation into suspected bribery involving arms deals between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia.

The British government said it dropped the investigation on the grounds of "national interest," saying Saudi Arabia had threatened to sever its security links if the probe continued.

But some see good news in the fact that the Total deal is being investigated.

"The Total scandal is proof that the (OECD) convention works," an OECD spokesman said on Friday.

But the convention has its limits. It does not extend to bribes paid to private intermediaries, nor does it apply to new economic powers that have not signed, including China and India.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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