The French oil giant Total and one of its operators have been cleared of direct responsibility for a blast at a chemicals factory near France’s southern city of Toulouse in 2001.
Thirty one people died and 2,500 were seriously wounded in the explosion at the AZF facility following an accidental chemicals mix. The company Grande Paroisse, a subsidiary of Total, ran the site. It and its former director Serge Biechelin were in the dock, facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and injury and destruction to property. The court dismissed the charges and also an attempt by prosecutors to hold Total and its ex-CEO Thierry Desmarest responsible. The accident happened just 10 days after the September 11 attacks in the US, raising fears of a terrorist strike. Despite denying the charges, France’s biggest company has paid some two billion euros in compensation to victims.