Jeffrey J. Steiner, a Washington dealmaker and the chief executive of Fairchild Corp., has been accused by French authorities along with 36 others of improper business dealings involving a French oil company.

Steiner is accused of facilitating and benefiting from the misuse of funds at Elf Aquitaine in 1990, according a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The trial is scheduled to begin March 17.

"We have received advice from our counsel that it is extremely unlikely that any of these charges could prevail," Steiner said late yesterday in an interview from his New York residence.

"It's a complicated case but we will defend it," he said.

The charges against Steiner center on an investigation by French authorities into $5 million that he received from Loik Le Floch-Prigent, a former Elf Aquitaine chairman who was convicted of misusing funds.

Steiner said the payment was an investment banking commission he was owed for helping the French firm acquire a U.S. chemical company, Pennwalt Corp., in the late 1980s.

The payment was proper, and the case may be too old to prosecute anyway, Steiner said. "We think that the statute of limitations may apply," he said. Steiner added that French laws exclude statutes of limitations for cases that include abuse of corporate assets, but that France's supreme court recently overturned that.

"Basically anybody that was remotely involved in doing anything with him [Loik Le Floch-Prigent] is being charged. We believe nothing will come out of it," Steiner said.

According to an SEC filing made last year, Fairchild has paid $4.7 million in legal expenses for Steiner. He also posted a $1.5 million bond required by a French magistrate.

Through a holding company, Steiner took control of Fairchild in 1989 and for the next decade pursued a string of acquisitions that made the company one of the world's largest makers of nuts, bolts and clips used to manufacture aluminum aircraft.

Fairchild recently agreed to sell its airplane-fastener business for $657 million to Alcoa Inc. The company now consists of a $100 million-a-year aircraft-parts distribution business.