Press release | Dec. 14, 2018

Senior execs of top world oil traders implicated in bribery scandal

Senior executives in two of the world’s largest companies stand accused of involvement in a multi-million dollar bribery scandal to secure lucrative oil deals in Brazil, Global Witness can reveal.

Trafigura and Vitol, the commodity trading giants, have found themselves embroiled in Brazil’s Car Wash scandal, one of the biggest corruption cases of all time. Earlier this month, Brazilian authorities accused both companies, and major trader Glencore, of paying over $15 million in bribes to officials at state oil company Petrobras. Our new revelations show just how high the corruption allegedly went. 

Freshly released court documents examined by Global Witness reveal the alleged complicity of some of Vitol and Trafigura’s leading lights in the bribery schemes. A former Trafigura board director was deeply involved in the criminality, and the late founder and former chairman of the company was in the know, Brazilian authorities say. Meanwhile, Trafigura’s current Chief Operating Officer signed off payments to a middleman that ended up being used for bribes, emails in the court material show. There is no evidence the COO knew of any bribery, and Trafigura strongly denies any such suggestion. 

The head of Vitol’s US operations was knowingly involved in the corruption too, according to Car Wash investigators. 

The disclosures come less than a month after an investigation by Global Witness and Swiss campaign group Public Eye first exposed how the three multinationals used shady middlemen in their Brazilian oil deals. 

“Accusations that senior execs were in on these corrupt deals should force Vitol and Trafigura to take a long, hard look at themselves,” said Ed Davey, at Global Witness. “This isn’t the first time we’ve discovered commodities traders using questionable middlemen to broker shady deals, and unless they start changing their approach to corruption, it won’t be the last.” 

The UK, U.S, and Switzerland provide key operational bases for the companies, and host the bank accounts of middlemen who were pivotal to the alleged schemes. Global Witness is calling on law enforcement in each of these countries to launch immediate investigations. 

Glencore says it “takes ethics and compliance seriously” and will cooperate with Brazilian authorities. Trafigura said it is “taking these allegations seriously and are carefully reviewing any information available”. Vitol said it would be inappropriate to comment on the allegations, but it had a zero tolerance policy over bribery and cooperates fully with the authorities wherever it operates.

 The Brazilian authorities made eight arrests in December 2018 in connection with the investigation but are yet to bring any charges in the case.



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