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Patrick Pouyanné (CEO of TotalEnergies) v. Greenpeace France
Data source:
Sabin Center
On April 22, 2021, Greenpeace France, the anti-corruption group ANTICOR, and the student association La Sphinx lodged a complaint at the prosecutor’s office against Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies (the French multinational oil and gas company also known as Total). The complainants claim there is a conflict of interest (prise illégale d’intérêt) by Mr. Pouyanné in establishing a Total research and development center dedicated to renewable energy in the campus of the École Polytechnique, a French public institution of higher education and research. The conflict of interest derives from Mr. Pouyanné’s position as a board member of the École. On June 21, 2018, the École’s Board of Directors gave an initial “agreement in principle” to set up a Total research and development center on the École’s campus. On September 20, 2018, Mr. Pouyanné was appointed to the École’s Board of Directors. At that time, the content of the partnership between the public institution and the oil company was still being defined. On June 25, 2020, the Board of Directors gave its final approval for the Total Research Center. According to the complaint, between September 2018 and June 2020, Mr. Pouyanné held a public service mission as a board member. From this role, he addressed fellow board members on behalf of Total to express the company’s preferences on the development of the center. Conflict of interest under French law implies that a person in charge of a public service mission has an interest "of some kind" in a project that he or she has tried to influence. This influence may result from a simple power to issue an opinion on a decision taken by others. According to the complaint, Mr. Pouyanné used his position as member of the Board of Directors of the École Polytechnique to influence the decision to establish the Total Research Center. The Total Research Center is expected to house, for over 50 years, several hundred Total employees (research and development teams), as well as a space for students and researchers from the École. The École Polytechnique is designed to train decision-makers for senior public administration. Following the complaint, the Public Prosecutor's Office initiated a preliminary investigation in May 2021. Once the investigation is completed, the Prosecutor's Office will decide on a course of action. On September 30, 2020, the Alumni Association Sphinx filed an action for annulment (requête en annulation) of the Board of Director’s June 25, 2020 decision to establish the center. The action is currently being examined by the Versailles Administrative Court.

Key environmental legal questions:

Whether there was a conflict of interest created when an oil company executive served on the board of directors of a public institution that was deciding whether to establish a research center funded by the oil company.
Suits against corporations, individuals; Others