Total says it never breached UN's Iraq embargo

20th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 20, 2006 (AFP) - French oil group Total said on Friday that it had never broken a UN embargo against Iraq, the day after its deputy chief executive was placed under investigation.

PARIS, Oct 20, 2006 (AFP) - French oil group Total said on Friday that it had never broken a UN embargo against Iraq, the day after its deputy chief executive was placed under investigation.

"We repeat that at no time did the group get around the UN embargo against Iraq," it said in a statement referring to United Nations measures put in place in 1996 against Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.

"At all times Total conformed to the rules of the 'oil for food' programme organised under the aegis of the UN."

The company said that it had "never bought, either directly or indirectly, smuggled oil which could have left Iraq illegally."

It expressed full support for its number two executive, Christophe de Margerie, who was placed under investigation on Thursday as part of a probe into whether or not Total had made illegal payments to gain access to foreign markets and had breached the UN embargo.

The number two of French oil group Total, de Margerie, was placed under investigation on Thursday over suspected illegal kickbacks to gain preferential treatment for his company abroad, a source close to the affair said.

De Margerie was put under formal investigation, a first step towards possible charges, for complicity in the abuse of corporate funds and in the corruption of foreign civil servants, the same source said.

Prosecutors have been probing since 2002 possible kickbacks paid by the company to gain market access and whether the company had bypassed the oil embargo imposed by the United Nations on Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

De Margerie, currently Total's chief for exploration and production, has been lined to up to take over as chief of the group in 2007, replacing the current chief executive and chairman Thierry Desmarest.

A source close to Total said the investigation would not affect the handover.

Magistrate Philippe Courroye began to investigate the company in August 2002 after being approached by Tracfin, the French finance ministry's anti-corruption agency, which suspected Total of paying kickbacks to get access to markets.

A former Total leader, Bernard de Combret, who left the group at the end of 2001, has also been placed under investigation, the source said.

The two men have been released after posting a bond of an unspecified amount.

De Margerie's lawyer Emmanuel Rosenfeld told AFP after his client was questioned by police that the investigation "the case is groundless and you will see very quickly that there is no hint of abuse of funds".

The prosecutor originally opened the probe into the suspected kickbacks paid between 1996 and 2001 via a Swiss businessman, Jean Caillet, and the company Telliac.

However during 2005 the prosecutor started to investigate the possibility that the company was bypassing the oil embargo imposed by the United Nations on Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The probe against De Margerie focuses on the period from 1996 to 2002, while the investigation of de Combret covers the 2000-2002 period.

Total is the biggest company on the Paris bourse with a valuation of EUR 129 billion.

In a statement it expressed its "full solidarity" with de Margerie and de Combret.

"For more than two years the conditions for applying the UN, so called 'oil for food' resolutions have been the subject of different probes," a spokeswoman said.

She said that at no time had "the group bypassed the UN embargo against Iraq".

"Every barrel was acquired by the company, without exception, under official authorisation as required by the UN," said the spokeswoman.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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