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Total Names New Bosses as Russia Probes Fatal CEO Plane Crash

Oct. 22, 2014
Thierry Desmarest, who had once prepared De Margerie for the top job, now appears to have been asked to do the same for newly named chief executive Philippe Pouyanne, who currently heads the refining and chemicals division.

PARIS - French oil giant Total (IW 1000/9) on Wednesday named new bosses to lead one of the world's biggest energy companies after its chief executive was killed in Moscow when his private jet hit a snowplow on takeoff.

Executives decided at an emergency meeting to bring back Thierry Desmarest -- who was both chairman and chief executive at Total from 1995 to 2007 -- as chairman of the group after Christophe de Margerie's death.

Desmarest, who had once prepared De Margerie for the top job, now appears to have been asked to do the same for newly named chief executive Philippe Pouyanne, who currently heads the refining and chemicals division.

He will stay on until Pouyanne is ready to assume the chairman's job as well, a union source said, ensuring a smooth transition after the sudden death of 63-year-old De Margerie, known by the affectionate nickname "Big Mustache."

In Moscow, French investigators joined a local team to probe Monday's late fatal night accident, which Russian experts said was caused by criminal negligence on the part of senior airport officials.

Investigators began analyzing the black boxes, which record the flight history and conversations in the cockpit.

Questions rose over the safety of the Vnukovo airport used primarily by VIPs, as Russian media reported that an intern was in charge of directing the plane at the time of the crash shortly before midnight.

Three crew members on the executive jet were also killed.

'Great Friend of Russia'

De Margerie had been chief executive of Total since 2007 and spent his entire 40-year career at the group which employs 100,000 people and posted revenues of 189.5 billion euros in 2013.

A descendant of a family of diplomats and business leaders, De Margerie was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, founder of the eponymous champagne and the luxury goods dynasty.

Married with three children and highly regarded within the oil industry, he was known for his jolly nature.

Not one to shy from controversy, De Margerie was an outspoken critic of Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Even as relations between the West and Russia deteriorated to the worst since the Cold War, the French oil boss had criticized the sanctions, calling them "a dead-end" and urging "constructive dialogue" instead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described De Margerie as "a true friend of our country, whom we will remember with the greatest warmth".

The value of De Margerie's commitment to business with Russia was highlighted by local media.

"Now Moscow has lost an important informal channel of communications with the political and business elite of Europe," business daily Vedomosti said.

Kommersant business daily quoted a source close to Total saying: "In recent times, Christophe de Margerie was practically the only one left in Total who called for developing business in Russia."

Marie Heuclin with Anna Malpas in Moscow, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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