A complaint against French energy giant TotalEnergies by two NGOs for “war crimes complicity” for allegedly helping fuel Russian planes that have bombed Ukraine has been dismissed by prosecutors.
The France-based Darwin Climax Coalition and Ukrainian group Razom We Stand filed the complaint in October 2022, accusing the company of making profits from the sale of gas condensate, the transformation of which into kerosene enabled the Russian air force to refuel for its bombings in Ukraine, particularly for the March 16, 2022, strike on a Mariupol theatre sheltering civilians, which killed around 600. These revelations demanded that investigations be carried out, in a context where the presence of foreign multinationals in Russia also has the effect of maintaining an entrenched war.
On January 10, 2023, the two NGOs were informed that the complaint had been closed with no further action. According to the reasons for this classification, at the end of the examination of this procedure by France’s anti-terrorism prosecutors, the facts of complicity in the war crime denounced against the company would appear insufficiently characterized, on the material level as on the intentional.
Lawyers for the two associations “strongly contest the assessment made by the prosecution.” They consider that the decision is inspired by exclusively political considerations.
“Indeed, no one can doubt the political will, particularly in the current economic and political context, to spare Total,” the lawyers said.
Svitlana Romanko, Founder and Director of Razom We Stand stated that: “Ukrainian people continue to suffer from daily vicious Russian war crimes, recently in Dnipro, that are funded by sales of Russian fossil fuels, often with collaboration of European fossil fuel companies. Total’s collaboration with Russia has been well documented and they must be held accountable. The task of holding war criminals and collaborators liable for legal violations must not be left to Ukrainian victims of war, or civil society. The French government and its justice system must be on the side of justice and human rights. They and their prosecutors must be responsible for holding French businesses accountable. Justice must investigate what Total Energies has done in Russia and, depending on the evidence collected, decide whether or not to prosecute. It’s not the time to push back.”
Lawyers for Darwin Climax Coalition and Razom We Stand intend to challenge this decision before the French Attorney General of the Court of Appeal, “which they cannot believe will be confirmed.”
The complaint came after the Global Witness investigation regarding Total. The investigation showed how gas condensate from Total’s Termokarstovoye field was transported across Russia for refining to Omsk before being shipped as jet fuel to Russian Air Force bases near Ukraine, including bases for Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers. The pilots of these warplanes have been accused of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, including a strike on Chernihiv on March 3, 2022, which reportedly killed 47 civilians.
Total denies all accusations, but days after the investigation was published it announced the company had sold its 49% stake in TerNefteGaz.
In December 2022, TotalEnergies announced it will pull its 19.4% stake from Russian energy major Novatek. Except for the stake in Novatek, TotalEnergies still owns minority holdings in Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG.
The legal complaint unambiguously demonstrates how operating in Russia when it continues to wage unlawful war against its neighbor can force an increased legal risk on a company on top of a reputational one. The B4Ukraine coalition calls on every multinational company to leave Russia immediately to stop enabling the war crimes in Ukraine and avoid increased complicity risk as well as legal, reputational, and financial risks Russia imposes on international businesses.