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Vitol pays $160 million to settle Petrobras related fraud case

Vitol sign
Vitol is the world's largest independent trader of oil, shifting eight million barrels of oil products a day. Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Geneva-headquartered oil trading giant Vitol has paid a $164 million (CHF146 million) penalty to settle a criminal probe into bribery and market manipulation in Latin America. 

The bribery allegations surfaced during the “Operation Carwash” corruption probe into Brazilian state energy company Petrobras. This led to a United States indictment that accused Vitol employees of bribing officials in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico. 

While Vitol was not obliged to plead guilty to the charges under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, it did acknowledge that it had behaved improperly. 

“We understand the seriousness of this matter and are pleased it has been resolved. We will continue to enhance our procedures and controls in line with best practice,” said CEO Russell Hardy in a statement.  

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has agreed to defer prosecution for three years and to drop the charges if Vitol takes action to ensure more compliant business operations in future. 

The indictment accused Vitol’s US business unit of paying $8 million in bribes to Brazilian officials to secure contracts from Petrobras. Further bribes are alleged to have been paid in Mexico and Ecuador over a 15-year period. 

In addition, the indictment said Vitol had attempted to rig oil benchmarks to manipulate market prices. Vitol is the world’s largest independent oil trader, handling around eight million barrels of oil and refined fuels per day. 

The DoJ is also investigating commodity traders Trafigura and Glencore in relation to the Petrobras scandal. 

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