After a marathon inquiry and trial peppered with tales of sleaze, political graft and high living, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced ex-Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent and his deputy Alfred Sirven to five years jail each.

   

The court also fined the disgraced ex-Elf boss 375,000 euros ($435,700) and Sirven one million euros as he started into a long list of convictions concerning 37 people on trial in all.

   

Judge Michel Desplan told Le Floch-Prigent that he was "the source of most of the misappropriations...which you carried out to enrich yourself personally".

 

Pernicious influence

   

Desplan also noted the "pernicious influence" of the former chairman's ex-wife, who was awarded a handsome divorce settlement largely financed by Elf.

   

A third senior executive, Andre Tarallo, Elf's Africa expert, was jailed for four years and fined two million euros.

   

Tarallo was nicknamed Mr Africa

The convictions were the first in a $350 million embezzlement case that shocked the public with its tales of dirty dealings within France's political and business elite.

   

Le Floch-Prigent, 60, has since February been serving a two-and-a-half-year jail term on a separate Elf-related conviction.

   

He was among 37 people accused of siphoning off millions of dollars between 1989 and 1993 to fund political favours and luxury lifestyles with money from the then state-owned Elf.

 

The trial put associates of President Jacques Chirac and his late rival and predecessor Francois Mitterrand in the dock and heard Elf was an unofficial arm of French diplomacy in Africa.

   

Le Floch-Prigent was appointed head of Elf by the Socialist Mitterrand while Tarallo - nicknamed "Mr Africa" for his friendships with African leaders - graduated alongside French President Jacques Chirac from Paris's elite ENA civil service college.

 

Close links

   

Despite their close links to the political establishment across the board, no defendants incriminated any major French politician by name during the four-month trial.

   

Prosecutors had demanded a record 34.5 million euros ($40 million) in fines against the defendants, which include their associates and relatives accused of having benefited from illegal largesse.

   

"The source of most of the misappropriations...which you carried out to enrich yourself personally"

Judge Michel Desplan,
Paris Criminal Court

Aside from purchases of luxury Paris apartments and villas, cash sucked out of Elf - privatised in the mid-1990s and now part of energy group Total - also paid for a million-dollar divorce settlement for Le Floch-Prigent's ex-wife, according to

Le Floch-Prigent's own evidence.

   

Prosecutors had sought eight years for both Sirven, 76, arrested on the run in the Philippines in 2001, and Tarallo, also 76, who was close to the likes of oil-rich Gabon's President Omar Bongo.

   

Le Floch-Prigent admitted secretly funding political parties with the aim of winning influence, citing Chirac's RPR, since transformed into the centre-right UMP, as main beneficiary.

   

Yet the political fallout of the Elf case has been limited.

   

In an earlier trial, Mitterrand's former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas was sentenced to six months for taking kickbacks from Elf over an arms deal.

 

But that was quashed in January when a court ruled Dumas was not aware the gifts showered on him by a lover - an ex-lingerie model in Elf's pay - were bribes.