Totally accused of complicity in Russian war crimes in Ukraine

TotalEnergies is the target of a criminal complaint accusing the French oil company of aiding and abetting war crimes for allegedly helping the Russian military invade Ukraine.

In a complaint filed on Thursday, Bordeaux-based NGO Darwin Climax Coalitions and Ukrainian company Razom We Stand alleged that a Siberian gas field partly owned by Total provided feedstock for jet fuel believed to have been used by the Russian military against Ukrainian civilians was used. The Paris public prosecutor’s office must now decide whether to initiate investigations.

The complaint is an attempt to test the legal responsibility of Western companies with investments in Russia in connection with Moscow’s war against Kyiv, which involved alleged war crimes such as attacks on civilians. Total has denied wrongdoing.

The lawsuit follows a May decision by the Paris Court of Appeal to uphold the pre-trial charge against Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity. The French cement company is accused of making payments to armed groups like IS through a subsidiary during the Syrian war in 2013 and 2014. Lafarge has denied any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit against Total is based on claims made by Global Witness, published by Le Monde in August. The campaign group claimed that gas from a field operated by Terneftegaz, a company jointly controlled by Total, was processed by a Novatek-owned factory – in which Total has a minority stake – and then sold to a Gazprom-owned factory , which is associated with the Russian military.

Novatek CEO Leonid Mikhelson was at the British sanctions list since April because of his ties to the Russian government. Novatek and Terneftegaz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an email, Total described the allegations of complicity in war crimes as “outrageous and defamatory”. It denied claims that the processed gas could have been used by the Russian army as fuel for their planes.

Total has stated that it had no operational control over Novatek and that Novatek’s activities had nothing to do with the Russian military. The French energy group has now sold its 49 percent stake in Terneftegaz, it said.

“There is no more investment in new projects” in Russia, Total boss Patrick Pouyanné said this month. He added that the company will continue to supply liquefied gas from Russia “as long as there are no European sanctions on the gas because we contribute to security of supply for Europe”.

“Unprecedented media coverage” of war crimes in Ukraine has stripped companies operating in Russia of the ability to plead ignorance, said William Bourdon, one of the human rights lawyers representing the NGO.

Bourdon argued that under Article 25 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a corporation could be financially complicit in a war crime so long as it had knowledge of the crime, even if it had no intention of committing it. Totally accused of complicity in Russian war crimes in Ukraine

Adam Bradshaw

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