French oil giant Total said Tuesday it has been charged with corruption and influence-peddling relating to the United Nations' Iraqi oil-for-food programme of the 1990s.
A French Total refinery
A French judge decided on February 27 to charge the company and several other defendants despite a prosecutor's request that the investigation be dropped.
Total lawyer Jean Veil told AFP the oil firm is accused of corruption, complicity to deal in stolen property and influence peddling in connection with the UN programme that ran from 1996 to 2003.
"The judge made this decision against all expectations," said Veil.
Paris prosecutors in September had asked that all charges be dropped against former interior minister Charles Pasqua and Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie but said 11 other suspects should stand trial.
Launched in 1996, the 64-billion-dollar oil-for-food programme was designed to allow Iraq, then under crippling international sanctions, to sell limited quantities of oil to buy humanitarian supplies.
But the programme was plagued with mismanagement and corruption involving UN employees and more than 2,000 firms from some 60 countries.
In 2002 a French investigation targeted several officials who allegedly received rights to purchase barrels of oil from former president Saddam Hussein's regime at discount prices.
Les Echos financial newspaper reported that Total is accused of paying bribes to Iraqi officials to gain access to oil supplies sold under the UN programme.
France's biggest-earning firm, Total has rejected the accusations, insisting that it acted in strict accordance with the rules of the UN programme.