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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Elf funds 'went to French parties'
Alfred Sirven and Andre Tarallo
Some 37 people, including Sirven and Tarallo, face charges
A key defendant in the corruption trial of former executives of the French oil giant Elf Aquitaine has admitted responsibility for "abuse" in the 1990s.

Former Elf executive Alfred Sirven told the court in Paris that much of the $50m he withdrew in cash between 1990 and 1996 were used to fund French political parties and foreign leaders.

Monday's hearing was also attended by former Elf president Loik Le Floch-Prigent - who was appointed by President Francois Mitterrand in 1989 to run the then-state-owned company.

The trial of some 37 Elf managers accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars began last month.

We are here to take our responsibilities. I will do my best to take mine. I would not like to be the only one to do so
Alfred Sirven
Former Elf executive
Mr Sirven said some of the 1bn French francs (152m euros) of Elf money that went through his personal Swiss accounts to finance what he described as political "missions" - although he refused to disclose who the ultimate recipients of the money were.

"I will not give any names, but it is certain that a large part of the money went in that direction," he told the court.

Mr Sirven says he knew illegal payments occurred, but insists the system in place at Elf pre-dated his arrival in the company and casts doubt on Mr Le Floch-Prigent's denial that he had any knowledge of the system.

"I am guilty of a number of facts. But I was not alone. The money was sent by people who had the power to do so. I did not," he told the Paris court.

When asked who held that power, he said Mr Le Floch-Prigent "could not have been unaware of the facts".

Mr Le Floch-Prigent reacted by restating that he knew of the existence of the system in place, but not of his extent.

In an earlier testimony, Mr Le Floch-Prigent said he believed illegal payments during his tenure between 1989 and 1993 amounted to $5m a year.

Plastic bags

The cash was withdrawn from the accounts in a manner "fit of a second-rate thriller", said the court's president.

Loik Le Floch-Prigent
Le Floch-Prigent says he knew of the slush fund system but not in detail
An Elf employee, nicknamed Oscar, would bring the cash in plastic bags to the Elf tower building in north-west Paris or other Elf offices in the capital.

"Oscar" had a specific way of identifying himself by showing a stamp or metro ticket. The cash would then be handed over to beneficiaries, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors say Mr Sirven used some of the Elf money to partially finance the purchases a number of properties in France and abroad.

When asked by the court to explain this, Mr Sirven said: "It is a question I ask myself. [It was] a kind of encouragement... the fact that money circulated very easily."

Previous hearings

The first three weeks of the trial focused on the role Mr Le Floch-Prigent may have played in the so-called "Elf system" and how much he knew about it.

Like Mr Sirven, Mr Le Floch-Prigent says Elf money was used to finance French political parties and foreign leaders, without giving any more details or names of those involved.

He denies any responsibility or part in the way the fund was spent.

Prosecutors say the commissions paid out and received by Elf rose from $50m to $130m a year between 1989 and 1993.

Prosecutors say Mr Sirven handled most of the illegal funds.

Another key defendant in the trial is Andre Tarallo, who headed Elf's operations in Africa.

Both Mr Sirven and Mr Le Floch-Prigent are serving jail terms, following their 2001 conviction in a separate case connected to the Elf saga - gifts showered on Mr Dumas to try to influence French foreign policy.

French oil trial opens
17 Mar 03  |  Europe
Elf king who fell from power
13 Mar 03  |  Europe
French court clears ex-minister
29 Jan 03  |  Europe
France defends Sirven case
04 Feb 01  |  Europe

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