A court in Paris Thursday acquitted 14 companies of bribing the former Iraqi regime to win contracts under the the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Renault Trucks, Schneider Electric, and Legrand were among the companies acquitted, along with several senior managers.
Two years ago, a French court also acquitted oil giant Total SA, its chief executive, a former government minister, and more than a dozen other defendants on charges of violating the oil-for-food program.
In both cases the court found no evidence of graft. It agreed with defense lawyers that no individuals benefited from the graft payments and that the former Iraq regime wasn’t victimized.
“Corruption involves the personal enrichment of the corrupt, but in this case it was not proven that any foreign public official or private individual was personally enriched,” the court said in the first case.
The oil-for-food program allowed Iraq under Saddam Hussein to sell oil and buy humanitarian supplies. It operated between 1996 and 2003.
The United States has brought enforcement actions against more than a dozen corporate and individual defendants for alleged oil-for-food violations. Defendants that resolved allegations included Chevron, Novo Nordisk, AB Volvo, Akzo Nobel, Ingersoll-Rand, and Textron.
The program required sales proceeds of Iraq oil to be deposited in a U.N. bank account and used only to buy food and medicine and other humanitarian goods and services. Beginning in 2000, the former government of Iraq began requiring companies to pay a kickback in exchange for sales. The amount was usually ten percent of the contract price.
Those payments, typically mischaracterized by companies as service or consulting fees, weren’t allowed under the oil-for-food program or sanctions then in place against Iraq.
Because the payments went directly to the Iraq government and not a foreign official, U.S. authorities usually didn’t prosecute the cases under the antibribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.