WASHINGTON, DC, May 29 (RAPSI) - The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced Wednesday that French oil and gas company Total SA had agreed to pay more than $398 million to settle charges filed by the SEC and a parallel criminal matter initiated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) based on claims that it had made illegal payments to an Iranian official through intermediaries in order to obtain valuable oil and gas concessions.

The DOJ announced Wednesday that as part of the resolution, it had filed a criminal information in a US federal court in Virginia charging the company with three counts of having violated various provisions of the  Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The government and the company then entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. Total agreed to pay a penalty of $245.2 million and to retain an independent corporate compliance monitor and to continue implementing stronger programs and controls aimed at preventing and detecting FCPA violations.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) likewise announced Wednesday that it had charged Total with violating the FCPA in connection with the bribery allegations.

According to the accompanying order, “From approximately September 1995 to November 2004, Total and others paid approximately $60 million in unlawful payments to intermediaries for the purpose of inducing an Iranian government official… to use his influence to assist Total in connection with obtaining contracts to develop… oil and gas field in Iran.”

The official involved had served as head of two different wholly owned subsidiaries of the National Iranian Oil Company, and had served as an advisor to a high-ranking Iranian official, according to the order, which added: “Total made these payments at the direction of the Iranian Official to intermediaries through a consulting and services agreement and subsequent amendments, entered into with an intermediary designated by the Iranian Official.”

Accordingly, Total was charged with having violated the FCPA. Furthermore, the order alleges that Total violated federal securities laws by having mischaracterized the payments as legitimate consulting fees.

“Total used illicit payments to win business in Iran, and reaped substantial financial benefits as a result… Total must now pay back all of its profits from the company’s corrupt conduct and additionally pay criminal penalties on top of that,” Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office Andrew M. Calamari said in the statement.

The order demands that within ten days, Total must pay disgorgement of $153 million to the US treasury.

According to the DOJ statement, Total agreed Wednesday to pay the sought-after disgorgement, and to comply with certain compliance requirements set out in the order.

The DOJ further stated that French law enforcement authorities had referred Total and certain chief officials to the Criminal Court.

Lauding the international law enforcement cooperation, Acting Assistant Attorney General Muthili Raman was quoted by the DOJ as stating: “Today we announce the first coordinated action by French and U.S. law enforcement in a major foreign bribery case… Our two countries are working more closely today than ever before to combat corporate corruption, and Total, which bought business through bribes, now faces the criminal consequences across two continents.”