Total: Iraq case ‘old news’

Total confidence: French major sure it will be cleared of any charges in oil-for-food trial

Total has hit back at reports that it and its chief executive face trial over the UN’s controversial oil-for-food programme in Iraq, saying the reports are “old news”.

The French supermajor has also claimed it is “confident” that charges against it relating to allegations of the misappropriation of funds during the Saddam Hussein era will be dropped.

Reports on Tuesday indicate that Total’s chief executive, Christophe de Margerie, will face trial along with the company and 18 other individuals next year over allegations of complicity in the scandal which saw funds generated from the sale of oil and intended for use for the purchase of food by Iraq go missing.

In a brief rebuttal to Tuesday’s reports, Total wrote: “There is nothing in the record. The Prosecutor’s office has already requested twice that the case not to be pursued.”

A Total spokesperson described the reports as “an old story” relating to allegations against the company first raised in 2002, before quoting from the formal statement: “The Volcker Report, issued by the independent inquiry committee into the United Nations oil for food programme, found that no corruption had occurred.”

That report, from the UN-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee, took over a year to compile and did indeed uncover wide-scale corruption, though not involving Total or de Margerie. It found, amongst other things, that the Iraqi government “granted oil allocations to individuals based in France who espoused pro-Iraq views”.

Total’s statement on Tuesday continued: “We are confident about the trial’s outcome and that Total will be cleared of these allegations and the charges to be dropped.”

Associated Press reported that de Margerie will be joined by former Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, in the dock after a trial was on Thursday ordered to go ahead by a French prosecutor. Former French ambassador to the UN, Jean-Bernard Merimee and former French diplomat, Serge Boidevaix, will also be called to trial, the news wire reported.

Started in 1996, UN's the oil-for-food programme sought to allow war-torn Iraq to sell its oil in order to be able to afford food and other necessities. The programme was soon hit by controversy as allegations surfaced that many of the companies participating in it had handed over bribes to grease the wheels of business, with now deceased Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, said to have trousered over $1.7 billion in kick-backs.

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