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Pressure mounts on Swiss commodity traders in Brazil corruption probe

Pressure mounts on Swiss commodity traders in Brazil corruption probe

Brazilian prosecutors alleged Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura and others collectively paid at least $31 million in bribes over a six-year period to Petrobras officials. (Keystone)

Pressure is growing on global commodity trading firms with strong ties to Switzerland for their alleged involvement in the “Car Wash” corruption scandal in Brazil. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating two Vitol executives in the Americas, according to Reuters news agency.

Based on information from anonymous sources, Reutersexternal link reported that Mike Loya, Houston-based head of Vitol in the US, and Antonio Maarraoui, the company’s head for Latin American and the Caribbean, are under investigation by the US law enforcement agency.

This comes a day after Swiss authoritiesexternal link announced they will be assisting Brazilian prosecutors in their investigation into an alleged corruption scheme involving global commodity trading firms Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura – all of which have strong ties to Switzerland.

In December last year, Brazilian prosecutors alleged the three firms and others collectively paid at least $31 million (CHF31 million) in bribes over a six-year period to officials at Brazil state-owned oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to secure advantages in deals.

The Swiss attorney general’s office had received requests between June 2018 and January 2019 for “mutual legal assistance” from Brazilian prosecutors relating to their probe. The requests concerned two of the three companies as well as several individuals. However, the attorney general did not identify them.

The US Department of Justice launched its own investigation into these business dealings in December and is also cooperating with Brazilian authorities.

Long-running probe

Operation “Car Wash” began in March 2014 as an investigation into allegations that executives at Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras had accepted bribes from construction firms in return for awarding them contracts at inflated prices.

The accused included dozens of politicians including Brazil’s popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who began serving a 12-year sentence on corruption charges in April.

By April 2018, Switzerland’s top prosecutor had opened more than 100 criminal proceedings tied to the Car Wash scandal in South America after some Swiss banks were used to funnel bribes from industrial conglomerate Odebrecht SA to officials at Brazil’s state-run oil producer Petrobras.

Cooperation between Swiss, US, and Brazilian authorities on Car Wash cases led to the world’s largest ever leniency deal after Odebrecht agreed to pay $2.6 billion.

Full story here
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