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UpstreamOnline: ‘Business as usual’ for Total boss

By Upstream staff

French giant Total said today that its chief executive Christophe de Margerie would return to work, adding it was “business as usual” after he was placed under formal investigation by a judge in an inquiry into kickbacks related to a 1997 gas deal in Iran.

De Margerie, who was detained on Wednesday, was freed without bail late last night but put under formal investigation for “corruption of foreign officials” and “misuse of company assets”, a preliminary step before a possible trial.

“I haven’t seen him coming in yet, but of course he will be in the office today,” a Total spokesman said. “It’s business as usual.”

De Margerie remains under judiciary control, a measure that obliges him to remain at the disposal of the judge, but Total said nothing prevented him from resuming his duties.

Magistrates opened the probe last year and de Margerie, Total’s head of Middle East operations from 1995 to 1999, has had the prospect of an investigation hanging over him since he took over as chief executive in February.

De Margerie, a 55-year-old Taittinger heir who turned his back on the family champagne business to build his whole career at Total instead, has denied wrongdoing.

He is already under investigation in a separate inquiry into alleged United Nations sanctions-busting in Iraq.

Paris prosecutors began investigating the 1997 South Pars gas contract between Total and Iran in December after the discovery of 95 million Swiss francs ($78.6 million) in the Swiss bank of an intermediary, judicial sources told Reuters.

Total has denied wrongdoing in the case and in another case over the United Nations oil-for-food programme that eased Saddam-era sanctions on Iraq.

The probe comes as Total is considering taking part in a project worth nearly $10 billion to build Iran’s first liquefied natural gas export terminal.

High-profile formal investigations are common in France and can drag on for years.

23 March 2007 08:46 GMT  | last updated: 23 March 2007 08:46 GMT 

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