French prosecutor seeks $1 mln fine for Total over Iraq oil-for-food

Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:22pm EST

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PARIS Feb 12 (Reuters) - Paris prosecutors asked a criminal court on Tuesday to fine French energy company Total 750,000 euros ($1 million) for corrupting foreign agents during the U.N. oil-for-food programme for Iraq a decade ago.

At the same time, prosecutor Ariane Amson said she doubted that Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie was guilty in the affair and was "not convinced" he was complicit in the misuse of corporate assets.

Prosecutors said it was for the court to suggest appropriate penalties, if any, for de Margerie and for Swiss oil trader Vitol, accused of corruption. Vitol has declined comment, but tried unsuccessfully earlier in the trial to have the case in France found unconstitutional because it had already been convicted of oil-for-food offences in a New York court.

The trial is expected to finish on Feb. 20 after which the court will rule.

Total, France's second-largest company by market capitalisation, was accused of bribery, complicity and influence peddling at the time of the programme, designed to allow Saddam Hussein's Iraq to buy humanitarian goods through United Nations-controlled oil sales at a time of international sanctions.

An independent inquiry led by the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker found in 2005 that the 1996-2003 programme had been undermined by kickbacks and payments to prominent individuals with access to Iraqi oil.

Total denies knowing it was paying so-called "surcharges" on each barrel of oil that went to the Iraqi government, in violation of U.N. regulations, and on Monday told the court it had taken precautions to avoid such payments. It argued the opaque system relied on a series of middlemen who often themselves did not know they were being charged.

Amson asked that Total be fined for corrupting the foreign agents between October 2000 and 2002, but that other charges, relating to influence peddling and complicity, be thrown out.

Therefore, the fine suggested by the prosecutor was lower than the maximum of 1.88 million euros ($2.5 million) that the company could have faced.

Seventeen individuals, besides de Margerie, are defendants in the trial.

($1 = 0.7427 euros) (Reporting By Chine Labbé; Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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