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Total and French ex-minister face oil-for-food trial

Former French interior minister Charles Pasqua (pictured), along with the CEO of oil giant Total, and the company Total itself, will be tried on corruption charges relating to the UN’s oil-for-food programme in Iraq, a judicial source has said.


REUTERS - A French magistrate has decided to send giant oil company Total and its chief executive to trial on charges that the company engaged in corruption during the United Nations oil-for-food program in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a judicial source said on Tuesday.

The magistrate is sending the company to trial on charges of corruption and involvement in fraudulent activity, while he is sending Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie to court too on charges of complicity, the source told Reuters.

The oil-for-food program operated in Iraq between 1996 and 2003 and was meant to ease the suffering of Iraqi people by allowing the country to sell some of its oil, despite the embargo imposed after the first Gulf War.

According to a U.N. report, it gave rise to corruption on an international scale, worth billions of dollars. Total says it had no knowledge of payments at the heart of the affair.

Against the advice of the French public prosecutor’s office, which answers to the justice ministry, investigating magistrate Serge Tournaire decided to send the company, its CEO and 18 others including former conservative interior minister Charles Pasqua to court.

The trial, which would involve months of hearings, is set to take place in 2012, the judicial source said.

Investigating magistrates do not have a reporting line to the government in France, which at least on paper helps to keep them and their work from political meddling.

A previous investigating magistrate, Philippe Courroye, was in charge of the case between 2002 and a job change in 2007, and during that time went to Iraq to question officials including Saddam Hussein’s deputy at the time, Tariq Aziz.

A Total spokesman said: “We are confident in the outcome of the trial and in the fact that Total will be cleared of these allegations and the charges dropped.”

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