In 2003, Elf Aquitaine’s chief executive Loïk Le Floch-Prigent went to prison. Now he’s out on appeal, and an international arrest warrant indicates he’s wanted again.
The corruption case of Elf Aquitaine is infamous in France. The country’s once state-owned oil company, now privatized and functioning as Total oil group, was found by a court of law to be guilty of serving as a veritable piggy bank for politicians.
At the head of the scandal sat the kingpin of bribery, Loïk Le Floch-Prigent, made famous by his admission that he stole and mismanaged north of $350 million of state-owned Elf’s money. Loïk Le Floch-Prigent used the funds to try and buy political clout and essentially wound up behind bars for it, though he was ultimately released for “medical reasons.” In addition to Loïk Le Floch-Prigent’s sentence, his former colleague at Elf, Alfred Sirven (the pair fled to the Philippines for three years) was also given a five-year prison term. André Tarallo, head of Elf’s Africa division, was jailed for four years.
As one of the world’s most powerful oil companies, it would be naive to suggest the Elf affair’s damage was solely reaped in France. Because Elf was the first major oil operator in Congo, Loïk Le Floch-Prigent’s actions inspired decades of suffering, dictatorship, and corruption in Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Angola, among other regions. This was an international scandal, and one whose tremors could be felt across the entire African continent.
The commissions Elf’s fraudulent executives paid to African dignitaries were done with the understanding that the funds would ultimately wind up back in France where it would be used to fund political parties. In 2003, when the scandal broke in France, it seemed plausible that the entire French government had a hand in the gold pot of Elf, which seemed to some to function as a clandestine arm of the French state.
After being sentenced in 2003, Loïk Le Floch-Prigent is now wanted again by the Republic of Togo, which has issued an international warrant for his arrest for defrauding a Dubai businessman through a serious of complex, and corrupt, business transaction. From a historical point of view, the lack of ethical backbone presented by Loïk Le Floch-Prigent in 2003 remains the same and proves the dictum: once a thief, always a thief.