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Russia Opens Criminal Probe Into Plane Crash Death Of Total CEO

Russia’s chief investigative panel has opened a criminal probe into the Oct. 20 accident at Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport that killed Christophe de Margerie, the CEO of the French multinational oil company Total, saying the field’s management was negligent and that the snowplow driver who apparently caused the crash was drunk.

The accident occurred when de Margerie’s private jet struck the plow during its takeoff attempt, burst into flames and crashed on the runway, killing de Margerie and the plane’s three French crewmembers. The plow driver was not injured.

The Investigative Committee, Russia’s chief investigative agency, said the driver of the plow was in custody and that it was determining whether he or air traffic controllers were responsible for the crash. An official with the committee, Tatyana Morozova, said, “At the current time, it has been established that the driver of the snowplow was in a state of alcoholic intoxication.”

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The driver’s lawyer, Vladimir Martynenkov, said his client wasn’t drunk, despite widespread reports to the contrary, and that he was merely driving his plow where air traffic controllers had directed him.

The Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin, also seemed to lay the blame on supervisory personnel at Vnukovo. “It’s already clear that the cause of the incident wasn’t a tragic set of circumstances … but the criminal connivance of officials who were unable to ensure coherent actions of airport staff,” he said in a statement.

Plane-related mistakes and infrastructure issues have plagued Russia in recent years, leading to fatal accidents. They include a plane that overshot a runway at Vnukovo in 2012, killing five crew; the 2011 crash of a Russian plane carrying a hockey team, killing 44 people; and the crash of a Polish air force plane in 2010 near Smolensk, Russia, that killed 96 people, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Related: Putin Threatens Gas Reduction To Europe

Vnukovo is the airport used by Russian government officials and visiting foreign leaders.

De Margerie had been in Moscow for an annual meeting with Russian government ministers on foreign investment in Russia. The Total CEO often attended international economic gatherings and was an outspoken critic of sanctions against Russia, saying that isolating Russia was bad for the global economy.

De Margerie, 63, was from one of France's leading families, with a long line of ambassadors and business leaders in its ranks. His grandfather, Pierre-Charles Taittinger, founded the prestigious champagne house that bears his name.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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