AFP: French oil group Total said on Wednesday that its chief executive faced judicial questioning over a gas contract signed in Iran in 1997. PARIS, March 21, 2007 (AFP) – French oil group Total said on Wednesday that its chief executive faced judicial questioning over a gas contract signed in Iran in 1997.
A Total spokesman told AFP that managing director Christophe de Margerie and several other senior executives had been called in for questioning by finance police, and stressed that the group had acted legally.
They would be questioned “in connection with a judicial enquiry” opened in December 2006 concerning “a South Pars industrial project in Iran, signed by Total in 1997 with the Iranian national oil company NIOC,” the spokesman said.
Total was “completely behind its executives and confirms that the agreements signed respected the law”, the spokesman added, saying the company was confident that investigating magistrates would “find there was no breach of the law”.
Earlier, a source close to the matter said that Margerie faced questioning over suspected illegal payments to win the contract.
It was alleged that funds identified in Switzerland might have been paid illegally by executives of Total from 1996 to 2003 to win the contract.
Margerie would also be questioned over suspected corruption in Cameroon, the source said.
Earlier, a regional newspaper Est Republicain had reported that Margerie would be questioned about the contract in Iran and in connection with an enquiry begun on January 8 into suspected “corruption of foreign agents” relating to the production and marketing of oil from Cameroon.
The two enquiries resulted from information provided in November 2006 by a unit at the economy and finance ministry charged with fighting money laundering, called Tracfin.
The Total spokesman named the other executives being questioned as finance director Robert Castaigne and the head of gas activities Philippe Boisseau, but said that personnel director Jean-Jacques Guilbaud, named by the newspaper, had not been called in.
The probe had begun in December under investigating magistrates Philippe Courroye and Xaviere Simeoni, and the police were acting on orders from Courroye, the source said.
Since 2002, Total and some of its executives have been targeted by Courroye in an investigation into alleged misuse of company assets. This enquiry is looking into whether Total misused funds to obtain markets abroad, and particularly in Iraq.
The probe, which has been extended to include suspected “corruption”, led Courroye to uncover evidence in 2005 that French interests might have received commissions for breaching a UN embargo against Iraqi oil from 1996 to 2003, in what has become a French “oil for food” case.