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France oil company acquitted in Iraq oil-for-food scandal

A French court on Monday acquitted French oil company Total [corporate website], its CEO Christophe de Margerie [WSJ profile] and several other defendants on corruption charges in connection with a scandal involving the UN's Iraq Oil-for-Food program [official website; JURIST news archive]. The oil-for-food program allowed the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], which was 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. Total was accused of bribing Iraqi officials to secure oil illegally. Among the defendants acquitted were also Swiss oil trader Vitol and former French interior minister Charles Pasqua. Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal the verdict [Reuters report].

The oil-for-food program, established in 1996, was mired with controversy. In February a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] an Iraqi government lawsuit accusing numerous business entities of conspiring with Hussein to disrupt the program, thereby denying Iraqi citizens access to approximately $10 billion of essential aid. In July 2010 General Electric (GE) [corporate website] agreed to a $23.5 million settlement after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint accusing GE of bribing Iraqi officials [JURIST report] to receive contracts under the oil-for-food program. Additionally, oil company Chevron [corporate website] also paid a large settlement to the SEC concerning misuse of the program, and two Texan oil barons, David Chalmers and Oscar Wyatt Jr. [JURIST reports], were sentenced to prison for their roles in the scandal. In 2005 Grundfos, a Danish company that produces industrial pumps, admitted [JURIST report] that two employees paid kickbacks to authorities in Hussein's government under the oil-for-food program.

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