France's Total acquitted in Iraq oil-for-food scandal

Oil worker near pipeline in Basra, Iraq, in 2004
Image caption The Iraqi government illicitly acquired $1.8bn via the oil-for-food programme

A French court has cleared oil company Total, its chief executive and over a dozen other defendants of corruption charges related to the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

The company had been accused of bribing Iraqi officials to secure oil supplies while Saddam Hussein was in power.

The UN programme permitted Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil in return for humanitarian supplies.

It was set up to ease international sanctions during the 1990s and 2000s.

Prosecutors had accused Total of circumventing a UN embargo against Iraq by using intermediaries between 2000 and 2002 to pay surcharges for oil, helping Saddam Hussein's government to raise money illicitly.

But the court in Paris ruled on Monday that there had been no corruption, influence-peddling or misuse of assets by the company during the programme, which ran from 1996 to 2003.

Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie, French former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and a dozen more defendants had denied participating in an illegal system that violated UN regulations.

During the trial, they said they had acted in strict accordance with the rules of the UN programme, which was suspended after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Prosecutors now have 10 days to appeal the verdict.

Corruption in the programme came to light in 2005 after a UN enquiry led by US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker revealed that over 2,000 companies had paid a total of $1.8bn in kickbacks for access to Iraqi oil.

Iraqi officials selected preferred foreign partners, who then used a variety of dodges to channel money to their own accounts or back to Iraq.

In a statement, Mr Pasqua, 86, said his only regret was that it took eight years to establish "the inanity of the defamatory accusations against me".

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