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Russian judge to hear suspects accused in death of Total CEO

© Fred Dufour, AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-07-14

A Russian court will open a preliminary hearing Friday into the death of Total's former CEO, Christophe de Margerie, who died when his jet crashed into a snow plough at a Moscow airport in 2014. Five airport employees are defendants in the case.

Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of France’s largest listed company, was killed along with three air crew – all of them French citizens – when his jet hit the snow plough as it was taking off from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport in the middle of the night.

At a court session on Thursday, lawyers for the five airport employees said the investigation had missed crucial evidence. Prosecutors said they needed more time to respond to the defence claims, and the judge gave them until Friday.

The trial has been postponed several times and Russia’s IAC civil aviation investigative body has yet to release its final report about the crash, which critics say exposed the country’s patchy air safety record.

An inquiry into the crash said in the days after that "criminal negligence" was to blame. 

"It was not a terrible tragic series of circumstances ... but criminal negligence by officials" who failed to ensure that airport staff coordinated their duties, said the Investigative Committee, which reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Alexander Karabanov, the lawyer for snow plough driver Vladimir Martynenko, said lawyers for the defence had put forward a motion for further investigation in the case.

“At the moment, motions were put forward in court on additional investigation because there were major breaches of laws,” Karabanov told reporters outside Moscow’s Solntsevo District Court on Thursday.

“The prosecutor asked for more time so that he can prepare and give a substantive response,” he said.

The lawyers believe that the investigation had not taken into consideration the actions of the flight crew, including how the pilots should have acted, said Leonid Kurakin, the lawyer for Vnukovo airport’s head of flights, Roman Dunayev.

'Mr Moustache'

In the days after De Margerie's death, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Hollande (also published by the Kremlin) in which he said he was "shocked by the news" and asking Hollande to "pass on the most sincere condolences and words of sympathy" to De Margerie's family and loved ones.

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

De Margerie, who was 63 and 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, he 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 2014 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 of that year 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 later told the Financial Times that the project had been halted due to the Western sanctions.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)

Date created : 2016-07-14

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