Oil Trader Gunvor to Plead Guilty in US Case Tied to Ecuadorian Bribes

image is BloomburgMedia_S9OE48T1UM0W00_01-03-2024_19-00-13_638448480000000000.jpg

Gunvor is the latest company to admit to paying bribes as part of a sweeping investigation into corruption in Ecuador’s oil sector.

Gunvor Group Ltd., one of the world’s top oil traders, will pay more than $660 million to resolve US and Swiss charges that the company paid bribes to Ecuadorian government officials for contracts.

The penalty, which is one of the biggest ever meted out to a commodity trading company, will be comprised of a $374.5 million fine and forfeiture of another $287.1 million, US federal prosecutors said at a court hearing in Brooklyn, New York, Friday. Of the amount, about $93 million will go toward resolving the Swiss case.

Gunvor’s plea comes as the US Justice Department is conducting a raft of investigations into major oil traders over illicit payments to government officials. A week ago in the same court, a former Vitol Group oil trader was found guilty of bribing Mexican and Ecuadorian officials. 

Jean-Baptiste Leclercq, Gunvor’s general council, told US District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano that the company admitted paying the bribes from 2011 to 2020. Under the agreement with the US, federal prosecutors said that Gunvor’s plea was related to conduct by former trader Raymond Kohut and two men who worked as intermediaries. Kohut pleaded guilty to US charges in 2021, admitting paying more than $22 million in bribes for oil contracts from 2012 to 2020.

“As a company Gunvor made mistakes at the time, for which we are sorry and that we have worked diligently to fix,” Gunvor Group Chairman and majority owner Torbjörn Törnqvist said in a statement. “Corruption has no place in our company and will never be tolerated.”

The information released by the US is a reminder of the seedy deals made in the not-too-distant-past by some of the biggest firms in commodity trading, which have made billions of dollars in profits on energy market volatility stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic and then the invasion of Ukraine. A shortage of key resources has also seen these companies strengthen ties with governments around the world — just a few months ago, Italy’s export credit agency guaranteed a €400 million ($433 million) loan to Gunvor in return for supplying gas to the country. 

Gunvor is the latest company to admit to paying bribes as part of a sweeping investigation into corruption in Ecuador’s oil sector. Vitol Group and Sargeant Marine have already admitted to bribing officials at state oil company, Petroecuador. 

No accord has yet been reached with Ecuador, although Gunvor said in its statement it does not believe the total settlements will “materially exceed” its $650 million provision for the cases. Prosecutor Jonathan Lax said at the hearing that the Ecuadorian deal will likely be around $93 million.

Gunvor will also pay 4.3 million Swiss francs ($4.86 million) in a fine to Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General.

Former Vitol trader, Javier Aguilar, was found guilty last week on three charges of bribery and money-laundering. In that trial, Nilsen Arias, the former head of international trading at Petroecuador, testified that he received bribes from Gunvor as well as Vitol, Trafigura Group, Noble Group, and Sargeant Marine.

Gunvor admitted Friday it engaged in a corrupt scheme to pay bribes to individuals including Arias, using two middlemen who pleaded guilty and testified against Aguilar.

In 2019, the company agreed to pay $95 million to end an investigation by Switzerland’s Attorney General, admitting that a former employee bribed officials in the Republic of Congo.

Gunvor posted a record profit of $2.4 billion in 2022. In addition to oil, the company trades gas, power, coal and metals.


(Adds more details from filing starting in second paragraph)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

By Patricia Hurtado , Archie Hunter


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the best of Energy Connects directly to your inbox each week.

By subscribing, you agree to the processing of your personal data by dmg events as described in the Privacy Policy.

Back To Top