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UpstreamOnline: Police quiz Total boss in Iran graft probe

By Upstream staff
21 March 2007 09:06 GMT  | last updated: 21 March 2007 12:45 GMT

Total’s chief executive Christophe de Margerie has been detained by French police for questioning in a probe into alleged corruption in Iran.

De Margerie, who took the helm at French giant Total last month, has been under investigation for several months by French judges probing corruption allegations linked to the Iraqi oil-for-food programme and a gas project in Iran.

A Total spokesman has confirmed de Margerie will be questioned by French police from the financial brigade.

De Margerie and two other Total employees will be questioned “as part of the French judicial inquiry into the company’s activities in Iran opened in December 2006”, the spokesman told AFX News.

He said de Margerie and his colleagues will also be interviewed over allegations of bribery in connection with a gas contract won in 1997 with the National Iranian Oil Company to operate the South Pars gas field.

The probe began in December under investigating magistrates Philippe Courroye and Xaviere Simeoni, and police are acting on orders from Courroye, a source told Agence France-Presse.

The news of Margerie’s appearance was initially reported by regional daily l’Est Republicain.

The spokesman declined to comment on the paper’s claims that police have also summoned Total’s finance director Robert Castaigne, personnel director Jean-Jacques Guilbaud and the head of its gas business, Philippe Boisseau.

A police source told Reuters that Castaigne and Philippe Boisseau, who oversees the group’s gas and power business, were also being interviewed.

Total has refused to name the two other executives who are being questioned.

He also declined to comment on the paper’s claim de Margerie also faces questioning over suspicions of bribery of public officials in Cameroon as part of a probe launched in January.

AFP’s source said both inquiries resulted from information provided in November 2006 by a unit at the economy and finance ministry charged with fighting money laundering, called Tracfin.

In a statement released this morning, Total said it supports its employees and added that the agreements signed in 1997 were done so in accordance to applicable laws.

The French giant added it is confident that the investigation will establish the absence of any illegal activities.

“Total has a strict code of conduct and adheres to it in all countries where the group is present regardless of the difficulties linked to its activities and the environments in which it operates,” the release added.

It is common practice in France for a suspect to be held for questioning, after which the judge may or may not file formal charges.

De Margerie was head of exploration and production at Total before succeeding Thierry Desmarest as chief executive. Desmarest is still chairman at Total.

“I would like to underline it’s just an inquiry and there has been no outcome. I am calmly waiting for that,” de Margerie told a news conference on Total’s 2006 results in February, a day after he was confirmed in his new post.

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