* Total said to bribe Iranian official to win contracts
* French prosecutor eyes case against Total, CEO de Margerie
* Total says would at trial demonstrate actions were legal
By Muriel Boselli and Jonathan Stempel
PARIS/NEW YORK, May 29 Total SA agreed
to pay $398.2 million to settle U.S. criminal and civil
allegations that it paid bribes to win oil and gas contracts in
Iran, and a French prosecutor has recommended that the company
and its chief executive be brought to trial in its home country.
France's largest oil producer on Wednesday agreed with the
U.S. Department of Justice to enter a deferred prosecution
agreement and pay a $245.2 million fine to resolve three charges
that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Total will also give up $153 million of illegal profit in a
related civil settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange
The criminal penalty is the fourth-largest under the FCPA,
an anti-bribery law, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr
U.S. authorities said that between 1995 and 2004, Total paid
about $60 million in bribes to induce an Iranian government
official to help the company obtain lucrative development rights
in three oil and gas fields.
The U.S. criminal case will be dropped after three years if
Total complies with the deferred prosecution agreement, which
calls for it to retain an independent compliance monitor.
But the affair is not over, as a French prosecutor said
Total and its Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie should face
trial for allegedly corrupting foreign public officials over
contracts with Iran in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The prosecutor also said de Margerie should face trial for
misuse of company funds.
A Total spokesman confirmed that the company had been
notified of the Paris prosecutor's recommendation and said the
company and de Margerie would demonstrate in any trial that
their behavior had been legal.
U.S. authorities said Total has American depositary shares
that trade on the New York Stock Exchange, and qualifies
as an "issuer" that could face sanctions under the FCPA.
According to papers filed with a federal court in
Alexandria, Virginia, Total funneled the illegal payments mainly
to Swiss bank accounts designated by two unnamed intermediaries
who acted at the behest of the Iranian official.
One intermediary worked at a Swiss private bank, and the
other was a company in the British Virgin Islands, the court
"We announce the first coordinated action by French and U.S.
law enforcement in a major foreign bribery case," Acting U.S.
Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a statement.
"Our two countries are working more closely today than ever
before to combat corporate corruption, and Total, which bought
business through bribes, now faces the criminal consequences
across two continents," Raman added.
Carr said the largest criminal penalty imposed under the
FCPA is the $450 million that German engineering company Siemens
AG agreed to pay in 2008, as part of an overall $800
million settlement with U.S. authorities.
Total had flagged a possible settlement in an SEC filing
last year when it took a 316 million euro ($409 million) charge
against its accounts, a relatively small sum for a company that
makes billions of dollars in profit every quarter.
Talks between U.S. authorities and Total, Western Europe's
third-largest oil company, had begun in 2010.
A French investigating magistrate will decide whether a
trial is to be held for the outspoken, mustachioed 61-year-old
de Margerie, whose mandate as chief executive is scheduled to
expire in 2015.
Total's chief is a well-known figure in international oil
circles who was in charge of the company's Middle East division
at the time the alleged wrongdoing began. He and the company
have been under investigation in France since 2006.
Shares in Total closed down 1.7 percent at 39.40 euros.
The cases are U.S. v. Total SA, U.S. District Court, Eastern
District of Virginia, No. 13-00239; and In re: Total SA, SEC
Administrative Proceeding No. 3-15338.