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The Elf trial: a victory over impunity

Transparency International welcomes the sentences in the Elf corruption scandal and calls on oil companies to publish what they pay

Transparency International (TI), the global anti-corruption organisation, welcomes the verdicts in the Elf trial pronounced by a Paris court on 12 November, giving three of the oil company's top executives up to five-year jail sentences.

"The outcome of the Elf case sends a strong message," said Muzong Kodi, TI Executive Director for Africa and the Middle East. Kodi continued: "The sentences have shaken large-scale corruption to its very core, removing the peace of mind and impunity leaders and high ranking officials quietly enjoyed. It also cast special light on the extent and negative impact of nepotism and favouritism in political relations between France and some African countries." Regrettably, the trial did not investigate other corruption-prone areas, such as the funding of political parties in France. Nevertheless, TI hails the court's handling of the case.

In the light of the Elf trial, TI reiterates its appeal to oil companies including Total, which bought Elf, to disclose taxes and dividends paid to host governments. Transparency in the use of oil revenues is an essential element of the "Publish What You Pay", a campaign launched by a coalition of NGOs, including Global Witness and TI, which has already grown to include more than 100 NGOs worldwide. This initiative recognises that the fight against corruption requires preventive action as it cannot be controlled by sanctions alone.

The Elf case is one of the most dramatic corruption cases of the century. A total of more than €305 million was embezzled. After an 8-year investigation and four-month trial, 30 out of 37 defendants were jailed. Loik Le Floch Prigent, the former chief executive of the company, and Alfred Sirven, his deputy, each received a five-year prison sentence. André Tarallo, a former regional director for Africa, was handed down a four-year sentence.

The case against the oil company was led by a team of financial judges from Paris: Eva Joly, a winner of the TI Integrity Award 2002, Laurence Vichnievsky and Renaud Van Ruymbeke. Although insufficient on its own, a complete and comprehensive set of investigations and sanctions is essential in the fight against corruption. Unfortunately, however, the law's role as guarantor of the efficiency and independence of these processes too often lacks the necessary means and freedom required for it to fulfil its duties.

Moreover, greater efforts are required to foster and reinforce international judicial cooperation. To this end, TI recalls the Paris declaration (www.declarationdeparis.org) which in particular calls for the "suspension of executive, parliamentary, diplomatic and judicial immunity" during financial investigations and for the "abolition of any appeal procedure meant to delay the transmission of evidence to foreign jurisdictions".

Given the diplomatic immunity recently granted to French businessman Pierre Falcone by the Angolan Government, TI draws the attention of the international community to the immensity of the task ahead. "With the Elf case, a battle has been won, but not the war," said TI Chairman Peter Eigen.


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