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Total SA, execs win acquittal in oil-for-food case

A French court Monday acquitted oil giant Total SA, its chief executive, a former government minister, and more than a dozen other defendants on charges of violating the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.

'The court ruled there had been no corruption, influence-peddling or misuse of assets' by the defendants, according to a report from

The oil-for-food program allowed Iraq under Saddam Hussein to sell oil and buy humanitarian supplies. It operated between 1996 and 2003.

Total, CEO Christophe de Margerie, former interior minister Charles Pasqua, and other former managers denied the graft allegations.

The trial was held in January and February this year.

The United States has brought enforcement actions against about a dozen corporate and individual defendants for alleged oil-for-food violations.

The program required sales proceeds of Iraq oil to be deposited in a U.N. bank account and used only to buy food and medicine and other humanitarian goods and services. Beginning in 2000, the former government of Iraq began requiring companies to pay a kickback in exchange for sales. The amount was usually ten percent of the contract price. Those payments, typically mischaracterized as service or consulting fees, weren't allowed under the oil-for-food program or the sanctions then in place against Iraq.

Because the illegal payments went directly to the Iraq government and not a foreign official, U.S. authorities usually didn't prosecute the cases under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In an unrelated case in May this year, Total SA paid $398 million to the DOJ and SEC to resolve FCPA offenses. The company admitted paying bribes to gain access to oil and gas fields in Iran. The settlement was the fourth biggest in FCPA history.

The French court Monday said there was no evidence of graft, according to

'Corruption involves the personal enrichment of the corrupt, but in this case it was not proven that any foreign public official or private individual was personally enriched,' the court said.

Prosecutors have ten days to appeal the ruling, said.