The CEO of French giant oil giant Total, 63-year-old Christophe de Margerie, died in a plane accident around midnight on Tuesday in Moscow, Russian news agency TASS reported.
De Margerie — who has been dogged by allegations of corruption during his tenure at Total — was in Russia attending a government meeting on foreign investment, according to Reuters. Total is a top foreign investor in Russia.
The Falcon 50 plane that was due to fly to Paris crashed into a snow removal machine during takeoff at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. The crash damaged the plane, so the pilot decided to turn around and land, Russia Today reported.
The plane started sending distress signals while it was still in the air, reporting an engine fire, according to Russia Today, which cited the Russian-language publication Life News. The plane was on fire as it crashed onto the runway, killing everybody on board — including de Margerie and three crew members.
Despite the EU’s sanctions against Russia, under de Margerie’s leadership Total has made no secret of its plans to continue exploring there. In June, Total signed a deal with the Russian oil company Lukoil to explore the Siberian wildnerness for shale oil, The New York Times reported.
“My message to Russia is simple — it is business as usual,” de Margerie told journalists in June.
Last year, de Margerie was one of several defendants acquitted in a high-profile case accusing Total and others of abusing the UN’s oil for food program, which let Iraq sell oil in exchange for humanitarian supplies between 1995 and 2003. Total and others were accused of abusing that program by using front companies to buy oil from Iraq, which let Saddam Hussein raise cash.
De Margerie could have gone to jail for 5 years if he’d been convicted, Reuters reported in July 2013, noting that his tenure as CEO had been filled with investigations into Total’s dealings with Iran and Iraq. Last year, Total agreed to pay $US398 million to the US government to settle claims that it had bribed an Iranian official.
Also last year, French prosecutors recommended sending de Margerie to trial for corruption and embezzlement related to the company’s dealings with Iran.
De Margerie had been CEO of Total since 2007, and he was known by the nickname “Big Mustache” because of his curved mustache, Bloomberg reported. He headed up exploration and production before he was CEO.
Total is the third-largest oil company in Europe.
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