Sun, Dec 23, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Oil giant Total SA fined in France for Iran corruption

AFP, PARIS

A French court on Friday fined oil giant Total SA 500,000 euros (US$569,175) for corruption over bribes that it paid to secure a huge gas concession in Iran in 1997.

The French company was accused of paying US$30 million in bribes in return for help in securing the rights to the South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, the world’s largest.

The Paris criminal court found it guilty of “corruption of a foreign public agent” for payments made to Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a senior energy official at the time, among others.

However, it dismissed prosecutors’ call for it to seize 250 million euros in Total assets — investigators’ estimate of the value of the proceeds of the corruption.

The fine represents a fraction of the US$398 million that Total paid in the US in 2013 to settle similar charges arising out of the joint French-US investigation. It also represents a drop in the ocean of Total’s net profits of 8.6 billion dollars last year.

By admitting responsibility in the US, Total avoided the embarrassment of a trial for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which seeks to stop bribery in foreign countries by companies with a significant US presence.

The company cited its deal with US authorities in refusing to answer questions about its Iran dealings at its Paris trial.

The French part of the probe, which was launched back in 2006, initially covered both the 1997 South Pars deal, worth US$2 billion, and the 1995 concession for the Sirri A and Sirri E oil fields.

Total was accused of paying a total of US$60 million in bribes from 1995 to 2004 to obtain the concessions.

The US Department of Justice said Total attempted to pass off the payments as “business development expenses.”

Total said its behavior was “completely legal under French law.”

In the end, the multinational was only tried over the US$30 million it paid in connection with the South Pars field after 2000, when a new French law on “corruption of foreign public officials” came into effect.

The ruling comes four months after Total announced that it was pulling out of the South Pars project for fear of being caught out by US sanctions after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Tehran.

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