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French Court Fines Oil Major Total Over 1997 Bribery Case In Iran

A court in Paris fined on Friday France’s oil and gas major Total with US$572,330 (500,000 euro) for having bribed public officials in 1997 in exchange for securing oil and gas contracts in Iran.

Total has been accused of paying US$30 million in bribes under the cover of a consultancy contract to obtain a deal to develop the gas field South Pars in Iran, according to Reuters.

Two decades after the 1997 bribery case, in 2017, the French company became the first supermajor to have returned to Iran after the previous sanctions on Tehran were lifted, with the multi-billion-dollar South Pars 11 gas development project.

But after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal this year, Total said in May that it would not be in a position to continue the South Pars 11 gas project and would have to unwind all related operations before November 4, 2018, “unless Total is granted a specific project waiver by the U.S. authorities with the support of the French and European authorities. This project waiver should include protection of the Company from any secondary sanction as per US legislation.”

In early June, Total’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanné said that the company’s chances of securing a waiver were “very slim,” and Total withdrew from Iran before the U.S. sanctions snapped back.

Iran says that China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is replacing Total in the South Pars gas project.

The fine by the Paris court on Friday was not the first time that Total has had to pay fines over bribing officials in Iran-related oil and gas projects.

In 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Total with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying US$60 million in bribes to intermediaries of an Iranian government official who then exercised his influence to help the French company obtain contracts to develop the Sirri A and E oil and gas fields in Iran. Total, listed on the NYSE, agreed to pay more than US$398 million to settle the SEC’s charges and a parallel criminal matter by the U.S. Department of Justice