Total to Face Appeals Court in Oil-For-Food Case

Source: Reuters 7/18/2013, Location: Middle East

Paris prosecutors filed an appeal in the U.N. oil-for-food case, saying French energy group Total should be retried for bribery in the scandal involving illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's government.

Prosecutors said they had also asked the appeals court to reconsider the case against Swiss oil trader Vitol, along with 14 other little-known individuals in the case.

On July 8, a criminal court acquitted Total and Vitol and 18 individuals on corruption-related charges, including Total's chief executive, Christophe de Margerie and former French interior minister, Charles Pasqua.

Prosecutors did not ask for de Margerie, Pasqua nor two other individuals to be retried. The appeal against Total will consider only the bribery charge, not the charges of complicity and influence peddling during the 1996-2003 programme.

The appeal paves the way for years more legal wrangling in the case, which came to light after an independent inquiry in 2005 disclosed a system of kickbacks, surcharges and payments to individuals with access to Iraqi oil.

In a statement, Total's lawyer Jean Veil called the appeal "judicial obstinacy, nearly 15 years after the facts", adding that the appeal would likely take place in 2014 or 2015.

Designed to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people, the oil-for-food programme allowed Iraq to sell some of its oil, despite the embargo imposed after the first Gulf War, in exchange for humanitarian goods.

During the trial that began in January, Total - Europe's third largest oil group by market capitalisation - denied having illegally manipulating the programme. It argued that the system in which middlemen procured Iraqi oil for energy firms was complex and opaque, resulting in companies paying oil surcharges without knowing it.

Total had faced a fine of up to 1.88 million euros ($2.5 million).

Vitol, which will again face a charge of bribery in the appeal, has already been convicted of oil-for-food offences in a New York court.

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