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France oil company charged with corruption in Iraq oil-for-food scandal

[JURIST] A Paris judge has charged French oil company Total [corporate website] with bribery and complicity in connection with a scandal involving the UN's Iraq Oil-for-Food program [official website, JURIST news archive], the company's lawyer confirmed Tuesday. Total announced the court's decision in its annual report last week but maintained that the company followed UN policy and acted lawfully [text, PDF]. Total CEO Christophe de Margerie [WSJ profile] claimed that the 2005 Volcker report, published by a UN-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee [official website] investigating corruption in the oil-for-food scandal, had eliminated all bribery complaints related to the UN program. The investigation found that oil companies like Total allegedly paid Iraqi officials over $1.5 billion in illegal kickbacks [materials] in exchange for being selected as oil purchasers. The oil-for-food program allowed the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], under UN sanctions in the wake of the first Gulf War, to sell limited stocks of oil in return for foodstuffs and other humanitarian supplies.

The charges are the latest legal problems facing Total. Last week, the Paris Appellate Court [official website, in French] upheld a lower court's 2008 decision finding Total and several other defendants criminally liable for an oil spill [JURIST report] that occurred of the coast of Brittany in 1999. The court also increased the fine [LeMonde report, in French] against the defendants from 192 million euros to 200 million euros. Over 20,000 tons of oil [Euronews report] seeped from an oil tanker called Erika, which Total chartered from an Italian company, decimating 400 kilometers of coastline and causing harm to wildlife. Total said Tuesday that it plans to appeal the judgment [Reuters report].

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