France looks into bribery allegations against Vinci Russian unit

PARIS Thu Oct 3, 2013 1:16pm EDT

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PARIS Oct 3 (Reuters) - French prosecutors have opened a preliminary enquiry into allegations that a subsidiary of construction firm Vinci bribed officials in Russia, the Paris prosecutor's office and NGOs said on Thursday.

French anti-corruption group Sherpa and several partner NGOs alleged in June that Vinci Concessions' Russian unit bribed public officials to win the contract for a toll motorway linking Moscow to Saint Petersburg.

A spokesman for Vinci denied the allegations. "We are at the full disposal of the judicial system to provide all the answers it deems necessary," he said by telephone.

Under French law, prosecutors conduct a preliminary enquiry to determine whether there is enough evidence of wrongdoing before appointing a judge to lead an investigation. They can also decide to drop the case altogether.

In Russia, the project for a 43-km (27-mile) highway cutting through the Khimki forest, one of the last remaining in the Moscow region, had sparked violent protests from local activists and environmentalists.

Former president Dmitri Medvedev temporarily halted the plan in 2010 in the face of public outcry, but construction went forward in 2011.

Today, over half of the highway has been built, including most of the 8-km section crossing the Khimki forest, Vinci's spokesman said, noting the firm had committed around 100 million euros ($136 million) to local environmental projects. ($1 = 0.7340 euros) (Reporting by Natalie Huet and Gerard Bon; editing by Mark John)

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