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Total found guilty, fined in 20-year old bribery case

A French court on Dec. 21 found French oil major Total SA guilty in a bribery case dating back 20 years in Iran and fined the company 500,000.

The court charged Total with bribing a foreign public official between 1997 and 2004.

All of the individuals under investigation, including former CEO Christophe de Margerie, are now deceased, and as a result, these individuals were not able to defend themselves, undermining the conditions for a fair trial, Total said in an emailed statement.

"Anyone who knew Christophe de Margerie knows that he would never be involved in any type of corruption. However, given the specific circumstances of this case, which has been already judged in the US and in which none of the individuals can defend themselves, Total doesn't want to pursue it," CEO Patrick Pouyanné said.

In a similar case in the U.S., Total, in 2013, agreed to pay a $245.2 million monetary penalty to resolve similar charges.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the charges related to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with illegal payments made through third parties to a government official in Iran to obtain valuable oil and gas concessions.

"In 1997, Total sought to negotiate a contract with [National Iranian Oil Co., or NIOC] to develop a portion of the South Pars gas field, the world's largest gas field. At the direction of the Iranian official, Total and a second intermediary entered into another purported consulting agreement that called for Total to make large payments to the intermediary," according to a U.S. Justice Department filing.

In September 1997, Total executed a contract with NIOC that granted it a 40% interest in developing phases two and three of the South Pars gas field.

The U.S. Justice Department said that over the next seven years, Total made unlawful payments of approximately $44 million pursuant to the second purported consulting agreement. In sum, between 1995 and 2004, at the direction of the Iranian official, Total made approximately $60 million in bribe payments under the agreements for the purpose of inducing the Iranian official to use his influence in connection with Total's efforts to obtain and retain lucrative oil rights in the Sirri A and E and South Pars oil and gas fields.

Total mischaracterized the unlawful payments as "business development expenses" when they were, in fact, bribes designed to corruptly influence a foreign official, the U.S. Justice Department said. Further, Total failed to implement effective internal accounting controls, permitting the consulting agreements' true nature and true participants to be concealed and thereby failing to maintain accountability for assets.