Total CEO denies bribes were paid on Iranian gas contracts

Total SA Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie, who may be put on trial in France for corruption related to Iranian contracts, denied the company paid bribes for the gas permits.

“What we did wasn’t illegal according to French law,” de Margerie said on LCI television Sunday.. “We didn’t pay bribes, we didn’t pay Iranian authorities. Our contracts weren’t illegal.”

The Paris prosecutor recommended last week that the company and its CEO, along with two other people, face trial on corruption charges. An investigating magistrate will decide whether a trial will be held.

Total agreed last week to pay $398 million to settle U.S. allegations it made illegal payments to an Iranian official for oil-and-gas contracts that date from the mid 1990s.

Total is barred from commenting on the U.S. settlement, de Margerie said today in his first public comments since last week’s announcements. Total is “more free” to talk about the French case, he said.

“What we did was legal,” he said. “There were no commissions. There were no kickbacks.”

Total, Europe’s third-largest oil company, was charged in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, last week with three counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as part of a deferred-prosecution agreement. The company also resolved related allegations with the Securities and Exchange Commission in an administrative case.

A trial on the Iran orders would be the second one for de Margerie related to business in the Middle East. He and the company were already tried in a Paris court this year on charges they participated in a scandal stemming from the United Nations oil-for-food relief program for Iraq. A ruling on the case has not yet been made.