Global Witness Calls on France & Liechtenstein

Global Witness
July 12, 2000

Following the admission on July 11 of a former senior official of Elf-Aquitaine, France's former state oil company, that the company systematically paid bribes over the past 25 years to top African politicians and officials through diversions of oil revenues, London-based human rights and environmental organisation Global Witness calls for a "comprehensive investigation by all relevant authorities" of this scandal.

"The Elf-Aquitaine deal revealed by the top official in the company responsible for Africa, implicates senior French officials and suggests possible French government complicity in dealings that robbed the people of Africa of millions of dollars in oil revenues, whilst sending them instead to corrupt officials," said Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness.

"Given the Commitment of France to stopping bribery and exposing corruption through its endorsement of the major international anti-corruption conventions, it is especially critical that the Government of France give full support to a comprehensive investigation and public report about any corrupt practices or payments made by Elf, or by any other company associated with Elf in its activities in Africa," Taylor added. "It should also be noted that for France to fail to do so, will be to directly undermine the IMF's reform programme in Angola, just when it is about to get off the ground".

Global Witness noted that according to Andre Tarallo, the key Elf-Aquitaine official who has revealed the bribery, the slush funds diverted to the African leaders were sent to accounts in Liechtenstein as a means of hiding these transactions. Earlier this week, Liechtenstein was black-listed by the G-7 countries, including France, for its failure to cooperate with international efforts to combat money laundering, financial crime, and corruption. Last month, Liechtenstein was also criticised by the OECD in Paris for its participation in unfair tax practices in relationship to other countries and the undue secrecy of its financial system. Liechtenstein was also named by the Financial Stability Forum established by the G-7 to identify countries creating risks of global financial instability due to their lack of transparency. In response, rating agencies such as the U.S.-based Standard & Poors have raised their risk assessments for bonds issued by institutions in Liechtenstein.

"If Liechtenstein is serious about getting off the international black list, it needs to reveal the truth about the Elf-Aquitaine's slush funds based there. Liechtenstein needs to make public all information pertaining to the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars of oil revenues from the people of Africa, regardless of whether it implicates senior African officials, senior European officials, or both."

The IMF has agreed to examine Angola's handling of oil revenues, as of July 1 to the end of this year, to shed light on a sector notorious for foreign corrupt practices. Documentation of the Elf-Aquitaine slush fund and bribes could materially affect the integrity of the IMF programme, by highlighting areas that in the past had proved vulnerable to abuse.