Munich Re unit Ergo said on Tuesday sales agents photographed snorting white powder at a company-sponsored party were inhaling salt rather than drugs, just as the insurer struggles to shake a tarnished image.

The unit was responding to a report in German tabloid Bild, that published photographs showing sales agents snorting white powder from a table-top at an employee motivation party held in the holiday resort of Mallorca last September.

"The pictures published in Bild show a drinking game with salt, Tequila and lemon juice," the company said in a statement

Tequila shots, slices of lime and a salt shaker were visible on the photographs, items used in a drinking maneuver known as "tequila suicide," which requires drinkers to snort salt, drink tequila and to squeeze lime into their eyes.

"The snorting of salt up the nose is part of the game. The activities of the persons shown in the pictures published by Bild do not deal with cocaine consumption," it added.

It said it has been provided with affidavits of the persons shown in the pictures.

Ergo last week sought to distance itself from revelations of a company-sponsored sex orgy for top sales agents held at a spa in Hungary in 2007.

Torsten Oletzky, the head of Ergo, told magazine Der Spiegel that the Budapest sex party arranged for high-achieving salesmen was "completely unacceptable" and "incredibly embarrassing."

He said the company had indications that 20 prostitutes had been hired for the evening, which resulted in a total bill for the event of 83,000 euros ($116,700)

($1=.7109 Euro)