French oil giant Total is being investigated for bribery charges related to the U.N. Oil for Food Program in Iraq, under the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
A French investigating magistrate has brought preliminary charges against Total in the latest development in a long-running investigation into possible kickbacks by the French oil company. Several current and former Total officials, including its chief executive, are also being investigated for criminal wrongdoing.
The charges relate to Total's participation in the U.N. Oil for Food Program that ran between 1996 and 2003. Under the program, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was allowed to sell oil in exchange for food and other humanitarian goods.
Another French judge investigated Total in relation to the U.N. program a few years ago. But in 2007, the prosecutors office recommended dismissing the case.
Total's lawyer, Jean Veil expressed surprise at the new investigation. In remarks to France-Info radio, Veil predicted the case would ultimately be dismissed.
A U.N.-sponsored report a few years ago accused more than 2,000 companies worldwide of participating in corruption and other wrongdoing related to the Iraq program. Costing $64 billion, the oil-for-food exchange was the biggest U.N. humanitarian program in history.
The new probe is the latest judicial setback for Total. Last week, the oil company lost a bid to overturn a court conviction for negligence related to a 1999 oil spill that polluted the coast of Brittany.