- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

PARIS (AP) — A French court convicted three former executives yesterday of helping loot $350 million from the Elf oil company to finance lavish lifestyles.

The verdict closed a chapter in a scandal that sullied the nation’s political and business elite.

Former Elf Chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent, 60, and senior director Alfred Sirven, 76, were given five-year prison terms for masterminding the massive embezzlement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Elf was under state ownership.

Sirven, the company’s former No. 2 official, was ordered to pay $1.16 million, while Le Floch-Prigent must pay $435,000.

Andre Tarallo, former head of Elf’s hydrocarbons division, was sentenced to four years and fined $2.3 million.

Twenty-seven accomplices, among them other former Elf officials, also were convicted yesterday. The company since has been absorbed into the Franco-Belgian energy group Total.

Yesterday’s verdicts culminated almost a decade of legal action that shook the French establishment and tarnished its image globally.

Early in the case, Le Floch-Prigent and Sirven threatened to expose links between their misdeeds and French political leaders, but the two refused to name names in court and none of those reputed connections were established.

The three main defendants claimed much of the cash was paid out as “commissions” to foreign officials — especially in African countries where Elf was prospecting — and French political parties.

However, the court said personal gain was the primary motive behind the embezzlement.

“Every time these directors signed a contract, gave an agreement or took a decision … the evidence has shown that they benefited from kickbacks from funds diverted to hidden accounts,” presiding Judge Michel Desplan said in a statement.

The judge earlier told the court that $199 million in stolen Elf funds were paid into secret accounts managed by Sirven.

“That’s about the same figure as Elf’s total net earnings for 1993,” he added.

The court saved its sternest words for Le Floch-Prigent, saying he was “personally behind most of the misdeeds committed against the French oil company” during his 1989-1993 tenure.

Le Floch-Prigent used company cash to buy luxury properties in Paris and Normandy and pay for a $5.3 million divorce settlement with ex-wife Fatima Belaid.

She was sentenced to three years in jail — of which two were suspended — and fined $1.2 million.

Le Floch-Prigent’s attorney, Maurice Lantourne, said his client accepted the court’s decision.

“He said he wouldn’t appeal, and he won’t appeal,” Mr. Lantourne said. “He wants to turn the page. It’s a relief, paradoxically.”

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