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Republic of the Congo Swiss prosecutor widens probe into commodities trader Gunvor

Gunvor says it has ceased all business in the Republic of the Congo, which accounted for less than 1% of the company’s global activities


The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland has expanded a bribery investigation into the activities of a former employee of the Swiss commodities trader Gunvor Group. 

Gunvorexternal link, one of the world’s largest independent oil and energy traders, said on Tuesday that an investigation by the attorney general had been widened to “examine possible organisational shortcomings exploited by the ex-employee to perpetrate alleged acts of bribery of foreign officials”. 

Gunvor said the widened investigation would include its Swiss entity, Gunvor SA, as well as the Geneva branch of its Netherlands-registered Gunvor International BV. The Swiss prosecutor’s office said it had sought assistance from several countries and told Gunvor it was under formal investigation.     

The probe concerns allegations of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering relating to an oil contract in the Republic of the Congo, according to Gunvor and the attorney general.

“Such acts by the ex-employee were unknown to Gunvor, which continues to fully cooperate with the [Office of the Attorney General],” the Geneva-based trader said in a statement. 

Ongoing investigation 

Since 2011, Switzerland has launched investigations into a suspected money-laundering operation involving a Gunvor trader, connected to loan-for-oil deal between the company and the Republic of the Congo.

In late 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. The case continues.

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.

“No transactions occurred in relation to the matter, and no business ever has been conducted with any involved parties,” said Gunvor. 

‘Offloading’ responsibility 

However, the Swiss non-governmental organisation Public Eye accuses the Geneva-based trader of “offloading” responsibility for embezzlements onto the former employee.

On Tuesday, it published a 68-page report into “Gunvor’s secrets in Congoexternal link” and claimed the trader entered into dealings with “dodgy partners” and paid “exorbitant commissions”.

“Ever since the Attorney General of Switzerland opened criminal proceedings in 2012, the Geneva trader has offloaded the responsibility for these embezzlements onto a former employee. The facts revealed by Public Eye show that the dodgy dealings continued well after this employee was dismissed,” it said in a statement.

Public Eye added that “dubious practices are part and parcel of the business model of one of the leading Swiss traders”.

Following this controversy, Gunvor ceased all business in the Republic of the Congo, which accounted for less than 1% of the company’s global activities.

As new policy, the firm says it will not undertake activities within the country. It says it has increased oversight and compliance rules “in order to prevent unwanted, independent behaviour” and to foster a “compliance culture” within the company.

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