Total CEO Summoned by SEC on Iran Deal

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have summoned the chief executive of French energy giant Total to explain the group's activities in Iran, a French newspaper said on Tuesday.

Citing two separate sources, the online edition of La Tribune said Total, whose CEO Christophe de Margerie is already targeted in a French corruption probe into a major gas deal signed in Iran in 1997, had received a summons on March 29.

La Tribune said the SEC would likely ask Total to prove it followed Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development anti-corruption guidelines.

But Total, whose shares are also traded on the New York Stock Exchange, said it had received no notifications.

"None of our executive managers have received a summons from the SEC or the U.S. Department of Justice," a Total spokeswoman said.

"With regard to the SEC investigation into Total, this is not new since we've mentioned it in our annual reports since 2004, but we are not aware of a notification," she added.

Spokesmen at the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the La Tribune report.

The SEC has previously asked companies to detail their business ties with countries the U.S. identifies as supporting terrorism. Correspondence released in November showed Ford Motor had received an inquiry from the SEC about ties to Syria, Iran and Sudan.

In October the SEC announced a settlement with Norway's Statoil, accused of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes to an Iranian government official. Statoil also entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice.

The French investigation into the deal started in December 2006 on the discovery of 95 million Swiss francs ($78 million) in the Swiss bank of an intermediary, according to judicial sources.

Total has denied any wrongdoing on the Iran gas deal or in Iraq, where French investigators are examining separate claims that it infringed the United Nations oil-for-food program. De Margerie is under formal investigation in both cases.

Total had signed the $2 billion deal for the first phase of the South Pars project on Sept. 28, 1997, snatching the biggest oil deal with Iran since the Islamic Revolution in defiance of U.S. efforts to punish oil firms investing there.

The deal upset many in the U.S. Congress, who saw it as a chance to apply the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act, which allowed sanctions against foreign firms investing in the energy sectors of nations then accused by Washington of funding terrorism.

U.S. President Bill Clinton later waived sanctions against Total after the European Union threatened trade action over its objections to the extension of a U.S. law abroad.