Oil trader admits to role in major Ecuador bribery scheme

Gunvor said it was cooperating with the US Justice Department Keystone / Martial Trezzini

A former representative for Switzerland-based commodities giant Gunvor has pleaded guilty to helping channel more than $22 million (CHF20.4 million) in bribes to high-level officials in Ecuador in exchange for lucrative contracts with the state-run oil company.

This content was published on April 7, 2021 - 13:01

As part of his plea deal in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday, the 68-year-old Canadian agreed to forfeit $2.2 million in proceeds from the bribery scheme, which he said ran from at least 2012 to August 2020. The man faces up to 20 years in prison.

In a statement read in court, he said as part of his job he approved large payments to two unnamed consultants, one of whom was a citizen of Spain, Ecuador and the United States and resided in Miami, with the understanding that some of their fees would be used to bribe Petroecuador officials in exchange for contracts to purchase oil products.

Gunvor said it was cooperating with the US Justice Department and described the man as a “former agent”.

“Gunvor has further taken steps to ban outright the use of agents for business development purposes,” a spokesman, Seth Pietras, said in a statement.


It is unclear if US prosecutors are also looking into any criminal responsibility for Gunvor, which they identified in court only as a “European trading company”.

But the man’s plea follows a number of investigations by Brooklyn prosecutors targeting corruption in Latin America’s commodities markets.

In December the US unit of Switzerland-based Vitol, one of the world’s biggest energy traders, agreed to pay more than $160 million to resolve an investigation into bribes paid in Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador over 15 years.

Swiss authorities in 2019 ordered Gunvor to pay nearly CHF94 million ($101 million) in compensation and fines for failing to stop its representatives from bribing public officials to gain access to oil markets in Congo and Ivory Coast.

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