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Investigations facing the world’s biggest commodity traders

Global energy trader Vitol SA settled probes by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) this week for oil bribes in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.

Vitol agreed to pay $164 million to the DOJ and the CFTC in fines and disgorgement. The CFTC penalties also related to the attempted manipulation of two S&P Global Platts physical oil benchmarks.

The CFTC said it was the first action ever brought by the commission involving foreign corruption.

Vitol has not faced scrutiny alone. The use of agents, also known as intermediaries or consultants, to secure deals have been at the center of these probes. Trafigura AG and Gunvor said they have ended the use of agents to win new business.

Here are some of the recent investigations the world’s biggest oil traders have faced:

* Brazilian prosecutors announced in 2018 a probe into alleged bribery schemes involving foreign trading firms – namely Vitol, Trafigura and Glencore Plc – and officials at Brazil’s state oil firm Petrobras. The investigation is an extension of Brazil’s vast six-year-long Car Wash scandal.

* Following the Brazilian announcement, the DOJ launched its own probe into the three major traders.


* The DOJ is investigating the company’s business dealings for potential violations in Venezuela, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DOJ subpoenaed Glencore in 2018 for documents relating to its business in the three countries since 2007.

* The CFTC is also investigating whether the company violated certain regulations through corrupt practices. Glencore said the scope of that investigation was similar to the DOJ probe.

* Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General said it opened a criminal investigation this year over allegations it failed to have measures in place to prevent corruption in the DRC.

* The UK’s Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation last year into suspicions of bribery in the conduct of business by the Glencore group of companies, its officials, employees, agents and associated persons. Sources familiar with the matter said it relates to the DRC.


* Brazilian federal prosecutors this month filed a lawsuit seeking damages from Trafigura and former executives on corruption allegations involving Petrobras. The lawsuit seeks to freeze 1 billion reais ($187.55 million) of the defendants’ assets.

* Brazilian prosecutors charged two former Trafigura employees, including a former board member, in late 2018 over allegations of paying bribes to Petrobras employees.


* Swiss federal prosecutors last year found oil trader Gunvor Group criminally liable for corruption in securing oil deals in Congo Republic and Ivory Coast. Gunvor was ordered to pay almost 94 million Swiss francs ($94.8 million).
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Julia Payne; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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