TotalEnergies is the target of a criminal complaint accusing the French oil company of complicity in war crimes for allegedly helping the Russian military in its invasion of Ukraine.
In a complaint filed on Thursday, the Bordeaux-based NGO Darwin Climax Coalitions and Ukraine’s Razom We Stand alleged that a Siberian gasfield part-owned by Total supplied feedstock for jet fuel suspected to have been used by the Russian military against Ukrainian civilians. The Paris prosecutor’s office must now decide whether to open an investigation.
The complaint is an attempt to test the legal responsibility of western companies with investments in Russia regarding Moscow’s war against Kyiv, which has involved suspected war crimes such as attacks on civilians. Total has denied wrongdoing.
The complaint follows a decision in May by the Paris court of appeal to uphold pre-trial charges against Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity. The French cement group is accused of making payments, via a subsidiary, to armed groups including Isis during the Syrian war in 2013 and 2014. Lafarge has denied wrongdoing.
The complaint against Total is built around allegations by Global Witness published by Le Monde in August. The campaigns group alleged that gas from a field operated by Terneftegaz, a company jointly controlled by Total, was processed by a factory owned by Novatek — in which Total owns a minority stake — and then sold to a Gazprom-owned factory linked to the Russian military.
Novatek’s chief executive Leonid Mikhelson has been on the UK sanctions list since April because of his links to the Russian government. Novatek and Terneftegaz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, in an email, called the accusations of complicity in war crimes “outrageous and defamatory”. It disputed the claim that the processed gas could have been used by the Russian army as fuel for its aircraft.
Total has said that it had no operational control of Novatek and that Novatek’s activities were unrelated to the Russian military. The French energy company has since sold its 49 per cent stake in Terneftegaz, it said.
“There is no more investment in new projects” in Russia, Total’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanné said this month. He added that the company would continue to ship liquefied gas from Russia “as long as there is no sanction from Europe on the gas because we contribute to the security of supply for Europe”.
“Unprecedented levels of media scrutiny” on war crimes in Ukraine have stripped companies active in Russia of the ability to plead ignorance, said William Bourdon, one of the human rights lawyers representing the NGO.
Bourdon argued that a company can be financially complicit in a war crime under Article 25 of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute as long as it had knowledge of the act, even if it did not intend for it to be carried out.
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