Skip to comments.Elf was 'secret arm of French policy'
Posted on 03/19/2003 12:37:18 PM PST by knighthawk
Elf Aquitaine, until its privatisation in 1994, was much more than a oil company - according to prosecutors at the trial of Elf's top managers.
They claim the state-owned firm worked as an unofficial arm of France's murkiest diplomacy.
The close relationship between Elf and French officials is well-documented, and goes back to the presidency of General Charles de Gaulle.
As the company expanded into Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, Elf paid secret "commissions" to African officials with the blessing of French governments.
By the 1980s Elf had operations in Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, Angola and Nigeria - which, investigators say, were kept well oiled by bribes.
But under Loik Le Floch-Prigent - the man appointed to run Elf by socialist President Francois Mitterrand in 1989 - it is claimed that the system went beyond offering sweeteners to secure deals and foster relations with friendly regimes.
Prosecutors say the commissions paid out and received by Elf rocketed from $50m to $130m a year over Mr Le Floch-Prigent's four-year tenure.
This reflects the fact that during that period, Elf ventured beyond France's African sphere of influence and began buying assets in the North Sea, Germany, Spain, Venezuela, Russia, Central Asia and China.
According to investigators, Alfred Sirven - Elf's secretive "director for general affairs" - is said to have handled a fund that was double the size of the one run by the company's man in Africa.
Furthermore, Elf allegedly channelled increasing amounts back to France, where the money found its way to politicians and parties, investigators claim.
As the former socialist foreign minister Roland Dumas recently put it, Elf turned into a "cash-cow".
"Its capital was used to reward African heads of state, but also - one thing leading to another - to bail out certain empty coffers," Mr Dumas said.
In statements made to investigators, Mr Le Floch-Prigent admitted that such illegal payments occurred, but insisted that Elf was just acting as a conduit.
"If the ultimate recipients of the commissions want to have a relationship with such-and-such a French politician or such-and-such a French party, it is their business," he is quoted as saying.
Elf's former boss also says he told Mr Mitterrand that such secret payments could lead to abuse. But - he added - the president insisted that the system set up by General de Gaulle should be retained.
Although 37 former managers are on trial for embezzlement, it is unlikely that politicians who are said to have benefited from the Elf system will ever face justice.
Alfred Sirven once said he knew enough to "topple the Republic 20 times over" - but since his arrest two years ago he has been tight-lipped.
The investigation has not been able to shed light on the entire African operation
Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke As police caught up with him in the Philippines, Mr Sirven crushed the telephone chip containing details of his latest contacts and ate it - literally swallowing many of his secrets.
Both Mr Sirven and Mr Le Floch-Prigent are serving jail terms, following their 2001 conviction in a separate case connected to Elf saga - the gifts showered on Mr Dumas to try to influence French foreign policy.
Mr Dumas - who was a co-defendant in that case - was cleared on appeal last November.
Judicial investigators have also been frustrated by the lack of government co-operation. The former socialist administration declared that state records on Elf were covered by official secrecy laws.
While prosecutors have examined Swiss bank accounts and say they know how Elf managers used them to acquire properties, jewels, and antiques, they there have drawn a blank on the politically sensitive material.
As Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke, who led the inquiry, put it: "The investigation has not been able to shed light on the entire African operation."
If people want on or off this list, please let me know.
Why do I have a feeling that perhaps the biggest reason why the French don't want the US to attack Iraq is that after Iraq is defeated the US will find out that TotalFINAElf (with the full blessing of M. Chirac) may have bribed Iraqi officials--including Saddam Hussein and his two sons--to set up that oil exploration and production contract worth around 65 to 70 billion?
It's going to guarantee that Chirac's government will fall like a house of cards, that's to be sure.
On September 21st, 2001 at 10:18 am an explosion occurred at one of France's largest petrochemical plants, the AZF Fertilizer Factory. The explosion measured 3.4 on the Richter scale. 29 people were killed, 34 were severely injured, and 2400 people were injured mostly from flying glass and debris.
The workers at the factory were caught off guard and had no chance to escape. Two chimneys collapsed and the explosion left a crater that was 10m deep and 50m wide. Most of the damage was caused by flying debris including cars that were blown into the air. One automobile landed on a nearby shopping center causing the roof to collapse.
Windows shattered over a 5km radius. Students at a nearby secondary school suffered injuries as well. Nearby roads became blocked by rubble and debris also causing injuries to motorists. The telephone system went down and the metro system was evacuated due to the spread of gas. People were told to remain indoors and close all windows, however, most windows had already been shattered. Residents were also warned to not drink tap water. The airport and main railway were shut down and 90 schools were evacuated. The blast was felt 80km's away. The damage from the explosion is estimated to cost several billion francs.
France's environment minister said today (10/4/01) that a Sept. 21 chemical plant blast that killed 29 people may have been a terrorist attack.
Yves Cochet's comments came after revelations that a man found dead at the site in Toulouse was known to police for possible Islamic fundamentalist sympathies, and was involved in altercations before the blast with workers displaying the American flag in sympathy with victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
``A new piece of information reached us today which shows that there might have been a terrorist origin,'' Cochet said on LCI television. ``We are not ruling out any hypothesis, including that of an accident.''
Cochet did not elaborate on what the new piece of information was.
However, news reports Thursday quoted police as saying that Hassan Jandoubi, 35, a French national born in Tunisia, was found dead at the scene, clothed in several layers of garments, which the reports said were ``in the manner of kamikaze fundamentalists.''
Last week, Toulouse's prosecutor said he was ``99 percent'' certain that the Sept. 21 explosion at the AZF chemical fertilizer plant was accidental.
Le Figaro newspaper reported that Jandoubi was hired to work at the AZF plant by a subcontractor five days before the explosion. It said he was believed to have been involved in altercations on the eve and morning of the blast with workers displaying the U.S. flag.
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, an investigator said it took five days to get permission to search Jandoubi's apartment, a delay that ``spoiled'' the investigation. The investigator, who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, said the apartment had been completely cleaned out.
The blast killed 29 people, injured hundreds, and damaged scores of buildings schools, hospitals, businesses and homes.
AZF is the brand name under which Grande Paroisse, France's largest fertilizer manufacturer, sells its products. Grande Paroisse is owned by Atofina, the chemicals unit of TotalFinaElf the world's fourth-biggest oil group.
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