PARIS Oct 3 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
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