HomeNewsBriefMajor Oil Trader Fined for Bribes Across Latin America
BRIEF

Major Oil Trader Fined for Bribes Across Latin America

BRAZIL / 11 DEC 2020 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

The world’s biggest oil trading firm faces a large fine after a multi-country investigation revealed it bribed Brazilian, Mexican and Ecuadorian officials with millions of dollars in exchange for competitive advantages, marking a turning point in one of the most significant anti-corruption cases in years.

Vitol Inc., the US affiliate of commodities giant Vitol, will pay nearly $164 million after entering into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), a Leniency Agreement with Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry (Ministério Público Federal - MPF) and a settlement with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), according to a Vitol press release.

Of the nearly $164 million, $90 million will go to the DOJ, just over $45 million to the Brazilian institution and over $28 million to the CFTC, according to a DOJ news release. The payments resolve all three investigations into Vitol’s bribery schemes in Latin America. The fines, however, are not an admission of criminal liability in either the US or Brazil and no top Vitol executives have been charged.

SEE ALSO: Brazilian Bank Slapped with Record Money Laundering Fine in Paraguay

Vitol admitted that it and its co-conspirators paid over $8 million in bribes to at least four officials at Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, for confidential information between 2005 and 2014, according to the DOJ. It also admitted that from 2011 to 2014, it bribed at least five other Petrobras officials in exchange for more confidential information that Vitol used to secure oil contracts, the news release stated.

Vitol also admitted to a second conspiracy occurring in Mexico and Ecuador, where from 2015 to 2020, it paid over $2 million in bribes to officials in both countries, again for confidential information aimed at obtaining and retaining business in connection with the purchase and sale of oil products.

Vitol employees variously concealed the schemes using intermediaries, shell companies, offshore bank accounts, fake consulting agreements, fake invoices, alias email accounts and even code names, such as “Batman,” “Popeye,” “Tiger,” “Dolphin” and “Phil Collins," according to the DOJ.

InSight Crime Analysis

This landmark case highlights two important aspects. First, the corruption model of bribing officials to secure public contracts extends far beyond the well-known Odebrecht scandal and, second, anti-graft probes like Brazil’s “Lava Jato” are showing broader results in going after the companies involved.

It is important, however, not to overestimate the impact of the $164 million in fines levied against Vitol. Bloomberg estimated that Vitol’s profits for 2019 were nearly $2 billion.

This is also Vitol’s first time being linked to bribery. In 2007, Vitol pled guilty in a US court to grand larceny for bribing Iraqi officials $13 million to win oil supply contracts during the United Nations "oil-for-food" program (which ran from 1996 to 2003), for which it was also convicted in 2016 by a French appeal court.

SEE ALSO: Major Odebrecht Corruption Cases and Investigations in 2019

Furthermore, Reuters reported in September this year that Brazil’s Petrobras had already resumed trading with Vitol as early as June, despite there having been no public lifting of the trade ban imposed by Brazilian prosecutors in 2018 when the bribery probe against Vitol was initiated.

Nevertheless, this is the largest anti-corruption case against a commodity trading house in years. And only last month, Brazilian prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against both Trafigura, another commodity trading giant, and some of its top executives.

Furthermore, according to Bloomberg, under the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, American prosecutors will only drop charges against Vitol in about three years and only if the company has complied with certain conditions. Vitol’s sanctioning may also push Ecuadorian and Mexican authorities to open their own investigations, as Ecuador’s Attorney General has already confirmed via social media.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EXTORTION / 8 APR 2021

Criminal groups in one of Mexico's most popular tourist regions have found yet another sector to extort and terrorize: hotel…

ELITES AND CRIME / 14 JUN 2022

Dario Messer, one of the most audacious money launderers in Latin American history, is facing jail time in Brazil but…

GUATEMALA / 23 SEP 2021

The Jalisco Cartel New Generation, which has rapidly expanded to become Mexico's greatest criminal threat, may now be spreading its…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…

WORK WITH US

Work With Us: Research Internship and Editorial Internship

31 OCT 2022

InSight Crime, a think tank dedicated to the study of organized crime and citizen security in the Americas, is seeking interns and investigators to join its dynamic, multinational team.