French NGOs threaten court action unless TotalEnergies leaves Russia

PARIS, March 15 (Reuters) - Two leading French NGOs plan to take legal action against TotalEnergies over possible human rights abuses unless it cuts its business ties with Russia following the country's invasion of Ukraine, they said in a letter to the energy major's CEO.

Greenpeace France and Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) France, in a registered letter to CEO Patrick Pouyanne, said the company must comply with a 2017 French law requiring multinationals to be vigilant about violations of human rights associated with their commercial activities in countries affected by armed conflict.

As a French legal entity, TotalEnergies and its directors may be held criminally liable for any offence under the French criminal code, particularly complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity, the letter said.

"We hereby formally request that you ... put an end without delay to your activities connected with the Russian oil and gas market in order to cease any business relationships that may contribute to the commission of serious violations of human rights," the NGOs said.

TotalEnergies declined to comment on the letter.

Russia represented 24% of TotalEnergies' proven reserves and 17% of its combined oil and gas production in 2020, company documents show.

The company has condemned Russia's aggression, but has not followed the example of British peers BP and Shell (SHEL.L) that are withdrawing from Russia. read more

TotalEnergies holds a 19.4% stake in Russian gas producer Novatek (NVTK.MM), some of whose directors and shareholders are reported to be close to the Kremlin and are targeted by Western sanctions. The company also holds, directly or via Novatek, major liquefied natural gas assets and projects.

Greenpeace France legal specialist Clara Gonzales said that if TotalEnergies does not update its plans within three months, it could take legal action against the group, adding that criminal proceedings could also be considered.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet in Paris and Simon Jessop in London; editing by Barbara Lewis

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