France Launches Investigation into TotalEnergies Following 2021 Mozambique Attack

In a significant development, French prosecutors announced on Saturday that they have initiated an investigation into energy giant, TotalEnergies, over potential involuntary manslaughter in connection with a jihadist attack that rocked Mozambique in 2021.

The investigation stems from a legal complaint lodged by families of victims and survivors of the attack, alleging negligence on the part of the French company, which was operating a major gas plant in the region.

According to the prosecutors’ office, the complaint accuses TotalEnergies of failing to adequately protect its subcontractors and of neglecting to provide essential support during the crisis.

The attack, perpetrated by Islamic State-linked militants in the Mozambican port town of Palma on March 24, 2021, resulted in the loss of numerous lives and triggered a humanitarian crisis as thousands were forced to flee their homes.

The assailants’ brutality shocked the world, with reports of beheadings and widespread violence.

Survivors and families of victims have alleged that TotalEnergies failed to ensure the safety of its subcontractors and neglected to supply fuel for helicopters to evacuate civilians during the assault.

While TotalEnergies has vehemently denied these accusations, stating that it provided urgent aid and facilitated the evacuation of thousands of individuals, including civilians and contractors, from the affected area.

The French investigation aims not only to determine TotalEnergies’ potential culpability for involuntary manslaughter but also to explore allegations of non-assistance to people in danger.

Additionally, seven British and South African complainants, including survivors and relatives of victims, have accused the company of neglecting safety measures even before the attack occurred.

The militants responsible for the assault had been active in the Cabo Delgado province since 2017, gradually encroaching on Palma.

Henri Thulliez, the lawyer representing the complainants, highlighted that the danger posed by these groups was well-documented prior to the attack.

The announcement of the investigation has been met with approval from families and survivors, who view it as a positive step towards accountability.

Nicholas Alexander, a survivor of the attack, emphasized TotalEnergies’ shared responsibility in the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Anabela Lemos, an activist at Friends of the Earth Mozambique, criticized the company for its broader environmental and social impacts in the region, beyond the 2021 attack.

TotalEnergies’ $20-billion gas project in Mozambique, which was halted following the attack, has been the subject of scrutiny from various quarters.

In November 2023, a coalition of 124 NGOs urged financial institutions to withdraw their support for the project, citing humanitarian, security, and environmental concerns.

The NGOs warned that continued involvement in the project would entail significant responsibility for its adverse effects.

Despite the challenges and controversies surrounding the project, Mozambique continues to pin its hopes on its vast natural gas reserves as a means of economic development.

However, the country grapples with persistent instability, exacerbated by Islamist insurgencies in the north.

As the investigation unfolds, it is poised to shed light on the responsibilities of multinational corporations operating in regions plagued by conflict and insecurity.

It also underscores the imperative for companies to prioritize the safety and well-being of local communities and personnel in such environments.

Jessica Bayley

Jessica Bayley is an international author and journalist. She covers global affairs, hard news, lifestyle, politics, technology and is also the author of "The Ladies of Belgium."