Total Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie is facing corruption charges in Paris related to the U.N. relief program for Iraq.
His lawyer, Emmanuel Rosenfeld, told Bloomberg News the charges were baseless. He said Paris is unique because it's prosecuting the claims as bribes.
"This trial is a French peculiarity," Rosenfeld said.
The trial will assess to what degree the 18 people and two companies -- energy trader Vitol and Total – were tied to controversies related to the oil-for-food program.
A U.N. committee led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker said in 2005 that thousands of companies were involved in illegal activities tied to the oil-for-food program for Iraq.
The program allowed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sell oil to purchase food and other humanitarian aid while the country was under international sanctions. The program ended after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
De Margerie could be sentenced to five years in prison and fined nearly $500,000 if found guilty of abusing the U.N. program.
Total works in southern Iraqi energy development as well as in the semiautonomous Kurdish north.