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Europe

CEO of French oil giant Total killed in Russian plane crash

© AFP | Christophe De Margerie shakes hands with former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, in 2011.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-10-21

The CEO of French oil giant Total SA, Christophe de Margerie, was killed when his corporate jet collided with a snow removal machine Monday night at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, the company said in a statement.

Total “confirms with deep regret and sadness” that its chairman and CEO died in a private plane crash at the Moscow airport, the company said in a press release dated Tuesday and posted on its website.

“The thoughts of the management and employees of the Group go out to Christophe de Margerie’s wife, children and loved ones as well as to the families of the three other victims,” the company news release said.

Airport officials told Russia’s Tass news agency that the collision occurred at 11:57pm on Monday (8pm Paris time), killing de Margerie and three crew members, all of them French citizens.

'Stunned and saddened'

Accolades for De Margerie poured in from politicians and business leaders on Tuesday.

French President François Hollande said he was “stunned and saddened” by the news, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls mourned the loss of “an extraordinary business leader who turned Total into a world giant".

In a telegram sent to President Hollande, published by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was "shocked by the news" and asked Hollande to "pass on the most sincere condolences and words of sympathy" to De Margerie's family and loved ones.

Putin also praised the former Total CEO as a "true friend of our country".

A representative of the transport investigative department told Tass that the French-made Dassault Falcon 50 business jet, headed for France, collided with the snow removal machine during take-off. Airport officials said the driver of the snow removal machine was not hurt.

Visibility at the time of the crash was 350 metres (1,150 feet), airport officials told Tass.

The crash is being investigated by the Interstate Aviation Committee, which probes all Russian air crashes, as well as experts from Russia's federal aviation agency, the airport said. The head of the federal aviation agency, Alexander Neradko, has taken charge of the investigation, the Interfax news agency reported.

Moscow transport investigators said in a statement that they had opened a criminal probe into breaches of aviation safety rules causing multiple deaths through negligence, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

“There are reports that the driver of the snow plough was drunk at the time of the accident,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Moscow, Julia Lyubova.

French experts were also set to take part in the investigation, Interfax said, citing a source in the rescue operation.

'Mr Moustache'

De Margerie, 63, known affectionately as “Mr Moustache” for his bushy facial hair, rose through the ranks at Total to become CEO in 2007, and added the post of chairman in 2010.

De Margerie joined Total after graduating from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in 1974, according to the company’s website. He served in several positions in the Finance Department and Exploration & Production division before becoming president of Total Middle East in 1995.

He became a member of Total’s policy-making executive committee in 1999.

Married with three children, De Margerie was the son of diplomats and business leaders and the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, founder of Taittinger champagne and the luxury goods dynasty.

He was known for his good humour, but De Margerie had also steered Total through tough times – including defending the company against allegations of corruption during the UN "oil-for-food" programme in Iraq.

Highly regarded within the oil industry, De Margerie admitted the allegations had taken their toll on the company.

"Most people, when they speak of Total, do not know what it is, but know it is not good," he said in 2009.

Paris-based Total is the fifth-largest publicly traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world, with exploration and production operations in more than 50 countries, according to a profile on the company’s website.

Total said in September that work on constructing a new natural gas liquefaction plant in Yamal in northwestern Siberia was continuing despite EU and US sanctions on Russia over its role in the conflict in Ukraine.

Total is developing the plant with Novatek of Russia and Chinese oil group CNPC.

Total announced in May that it had signed a deal with Russia's second-biggest oil firm Lukoil to explore and develop shale oil deposits in western Siberia. But De Margerie told the Financial Times last month that the project had been halted due to the Western sanctions.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

Date created : 2014-10-21

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