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France’s TotalEnergies faces ‘war crimes complicity’ case

Two associations have lodged a legal complaint against French energy giant TotalEnergies for “complicity in war crimes” for allegedly helping fuel Russian planes that have bombed Ukraine, a source close to the case said Friday.

The France-based Darwin Climax Coalition and Ukrainian group Razom We Stand handed the file to the national anti-terrorist prosecutor, who investigates war crime allegations, on Thursday.

Le Monde newspaper in August said TotalEnergies held a stake in a company that extracted gas condensate from northern Russia, some of which was turned into jet fuel used by Russian air squadrons accused of war crimes in Ukraine.

The legal complaint, seen by AFP, accuses TotalEnergies of helping to provide the Russian government with “the necessary means to commit war crimes” by “continuing to exploit the Termokarstovoye deposit” in northern Russia.

TotalEnergies until recently owned a 49-percent share in Terneftegaz, a company that extracts gas from the Termokarstovoye field.

The other 51 percent was held by Russian company Novatek, in which the French firm also owns a direct 19.4 percent stake.

After the article in Le Monde, the French giant said it had on July 18 sold its 49-percent share in Terneftegaz to Novatek.

Le Monde reported that Termokarstovoye is a source of natural gas condensates — a liquid hydrocarbon recovered when extracting the gas itself — that are sent by pipeline to a Novatek processing plant in Purovsky.

They were then sent by rail for further refining into jet fuel in the southern Siberian city of Omsk. That fuel has been sent to Russian airbases near the Ukrainian border, Le Monde said, citing data from financial information firm Refinitiv.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused squadrons based there of attacks on civilians, including the March 16 bombing of a Mariupol theatre where hundreds of people are believed to have died in what Amnesty described as a “war crime”.

– TotalEnergies refutes allegations –

TotalEnergies has contested the claims. It says Novatek had confirmed it was not supplying Moscow with jet fuel to carry out strikes in Ukraine.

The firm said on Friday that it “categorically refutes all of the unfounded allegations made by Global Witness, published by the newspaper Le Monde last August.”

TotalEnergies added that unstable condensates produced by Terneftegaz had been “exported abroad” and therefore could not have been used by the Russian army as fuel for its planes.

The accusations of complicity in war crimes are “outrageous”, “defamatory” and “unfounded”, the company said.

Last week, TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne had already hit back at the allegations.

“It’s wrong, absolutely wrong, and you cannot find a single proof that there was a single condensate of Termokarstovoye going to any refinery in Russia,” he said at the Energy Intelligence Forum in London.

The European Union has imposed a ban on most Russian oil imports and a coal embargo in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, but it has avoided sanctions on gas as the bloc is highly reliant on Russian supplies.

Pouyanne said his firm was no longer investing in new projects in Russia.

But “we will continue to ship energy from Russia as long as there are no sanctions from Europe on the gas, as we contribute to the security of supply for Europe,” he said.

Lawyers from the two associations told AFP it was time for multinationals to be held to account.

“Justice should not be blind when faced with the indirect but essential support of multinationals to the war effort, and to the considerable benefits that they continue to enjoy after the invasion of Ukraine,” lawyers William Bourdon, Vincent Brengarth and Henri Thulliez said.

“France cannot in the same breath condemn the invasion, and remain inactive in the face of the behaviours propping it up.”