Total reserves EUR316 million to settle U.S. probe of Iran business
BY C.M. MATTHEWS
PARIS -- Oil major Total said it had reserved 316 million euros to settle a long-running investigation by U.S. authorities into potentially corrupt business practices in Iran.
Total said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that it reserved the funds after settlement discussions "accelerated" with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission in recent weeks. The Paris-based company said the EUR316 million reflected "the best estimate of potential costs" associated with resolving the probe.
The SEC and the Justice Department have been investigating Total's pursuit of contracts in the early 2000s to develop parts of Iran's South Pars gas field, among the world's largest.
The huge sum reserved would be one of the largest-ever settlements under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The SEC opened its probe in 2003 and the Justice Department followed. Total previously disclosed that the investigation focuses on whether a consultant hired by the company paid bribes on its behalf, in violation of the FCPA, which bars bribery of foreign officials and holds U.S.-listed companies liable for corrupt payments made by third parties.
Spokeswomen for the Justice Department and the SEC declined to comment.
Total said it opened talks with U.S. authorities in 2010 and is cooperating with the Justice Department and the SEC. In previous regulatory filings, Total has said that it doesn't believe that its contracts in Iran violated any law.
In March, the company said it had turned down settlement terms offered by the agencies because it was "unable to agree to several substantial elements of the proposal." It was unclear if or how the settlement terms had changed.
A Total spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total is also under investigation in France. A judicial inquiry was launched in 2006 over the Iranian matter and another in 2010 over Total's involvement in the corruption-plagued U.N."Oil-for-Food" Program.
Total previously said it believes that it was in compliance with the U.N. program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil in return for humanitarian goods, and noted that a new investigating judge decided to open the case after prosecutors advised against it.
Dow Jones Newswires