FRANCE stands accused of trying to shield a £50BILLION payday by refusing to sanction war against Saddam Hussein. The colossal sum is the reward for developing two of Iraq’s biggest untapped oilfields. Jacques Chirac has wriggled desperately in a bid to save the huge bonanza. He is also determined to save trade worth more than £1billion a year. Experts believe a new regime in Iraq would want to renegotiate existing contracts — with the French squeezed out. French petrol firm TotalFinaElf has exclusive exploration contracts from Saddam to develop two vast untapped oilfields at Majnoon and Bin Umar. Although oil is the richest prize, France’s trade with Saddam has risen from £440million in 1997 to £1.1billion in 2001. Sales of French goods have soared by 65 per cent and France has “priority supplier” status. The country appears to be exploiting the UN “oil for food” programme to sell its products in Iraq, where international trade sanctions apply. One Paris industrialist said: “Once you’re past the UN sanctions, all contracts are honoured and payments made on time.” President Chirac remains the only Western leader ever to have met Saddam, and has described him as “a personal friend”. Chirac has also been accused of taking bungs from firms in return for awarding contracts worth £100million while mayor of Paris. But a judge had to shelve his inquiry because Chirac has immunity from prosecution.