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African oil deals Ex-Gunvor trader puts company under the spotlight

Gunvor office

Gunvor is one of the world's leading independent commodities trading companies and employs 1,600 people worldwide

(Keystone)

A former employee of the Geneva-based commodities trader Gunvor has been handed an 18-month suspended sentence as part of a plea bargain for corruption activities in the Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire. 

On Tuesday, the Federal Administrative Court in Bellinzone handed down the suspended sentence under an “accelerated proceeding” negotiated by the former Gunvor employee and the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.

According to the court indictment, the trader and other Gunvor colleagues drew up agreements to bribe officials – to the tune of $42 million (CHF40.9 million) in Congo and $7.6 million in Côte d’Ivoire – enabling Gunvor to acquire crude oil and petroleum products worth several hundred million dollars between 2008 and 2012.

Relatives of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso and officials were paid for their interventions on Gunvor's behalf. The payments were made to banks belonging to shell companies in Geneva and China. In 2009 and 2010, similar agreements were signed with Côte d'Ivoire officials and financial arrangements made via Geneva and Belgian banks. 

The guilty trader has agreed to continue to cooperate with Swiss prosecutors, who are pursuing a parallel investigation into Gunvor for “possible organizational shortcomings”.

The Geneva-based firmexternal link, one of the world’s largest independent oil and energy traders, has always claimed that it was the victim of a rogue employee who acted without the company’s knowledge. 

“Gunvor acknowledges the conviction of its former employee against whom it filed a criminal complaint in 2012, where it was seen that he unlawfully directed funds to himself and another individual,” a Gunvor spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday. “Gunvor wholly rejects the possibility of a conscious and desired involvement of any other employee or executive.”

+ More on the bribery investigation into the ex-Gunvor employee

The Swiss attorney general launched an investigation in 2011 into a suspected money-laundering operation involving a Gunvor trader, connected to a loan-for-oil deal between the company and the Republic of the Congo.

In 2012, Gunvor filed a criminal complaint against a former employee for fraud and embezzlement. This was accepted by the attorney general, which went on to file charges of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering against the trader.

In 2014, Gunvor dismissed a second employee in connection with the affair and reported the individual to Swiss authorities after “learning of a videotape that highlights alleged misconduct by this employee”, it said on Tuesday. The firm said the former employee had told the prosecutor’s office he had acted alone and claimed the videotape constituted entrapment.

The Swiss non-governmental organisation Public Eye, which has published its own report into Gunvor and its business activities in the Republic of the Congo, has accused the company of “offloading” responsibility for embezzlements onto the former employee. 

On Tuesday, it issued a statementexternal link claiming that the findings of the Swiss Attorney General’s Office confirm that the former Gunvor employee did not act alone. It described the case as a “landmark” and urged Swiss authorities to “regulate the Swiss commodities trading sector”.

SDA-ATS/sb

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