Total Faces French Trial on Iran-Corruption Claim After U.S Deal

Total SA faces a trial in France on allegations it made illegal payments to an Iranian official for oil and gas contracts, according to prosecutors.

The biggest French company by market value stands charged with “corruption of foreign public officials,” a spokeswoman in the Paris prosecutors’ office said, asking not to be named because of office policy. Two intermediaries will also be tried for alleged complicity, she said. A date has yet to be set.

The decision to go to trial, by a French judge days before former Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie died in a plane crash last month, follows Total’s agreement in May 2013 to pay $398 million to settle U.S. allegations. It also resolved related claims with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The contract was legal,” Daniel Soulez-Lariviere, a lawyer for Total, said by phone, referring to its Iran agreement. It was signed “many years” before an anti-bribery convention by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was incorporated into French law, he said.

A French trial goes against the idea of double jeopardy in which one shouldn’t be tried twice for the same offense, he said. Total “has no more defense” as it’s unable to discuss the U.S. deferred-prosecution agreement it signed, he said.

A Total spokeswoman who asked not to be identified because of company policy confirmed the prosecutor’s decision.

The prosecutor recommended on the day of the company’s U.S. settlement that Total, de Margerie and two others stand trial.

Total paid $60 million in bribes to an Iranian official from 1995 to 2004 to obtain rights in three oil and gas fields, including South Pars, according to a statement of facts in the deferred-prosecution agreement. Total admitted to the conduct described in the statement of facts, according to the agreement, which was signed by Peter Herbel, Total’s general counsel.

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