Top oil traders paid middlemen accused in Brazilian bribery scandal, says Global Witness

By agency reporter
November 10, 2018

The world’s top two commodity traders used middlemen notorious for their role in Brazil’s mammoth 'Car Wash' bribery scandal, a report from Global Witness and Switzerland’s Public Eye has revealed.

The new Global Witness report, Friends in low places, reveals that Glencore and Vitol paid millions of dollars to middlemen who now face corruption charges over separate deals. In August this year Brazilian prosecutors charged some of the intermediaries with having bribed senior officials at state oil company Petrobras, in deals shortly before their work for Glencore and Vitol.

Trafigura, the world’s third biggest independent oil trader, is the subject of a Brazilian police investigation, Petrobras told Global Witness. Previously unreported court material also places Trafigura in negotiations with another Car Wash player, Jorge Luz, now so infamous he is known as the 'Deacon of Bribes'. Court filings show Luz discussing a $2 billion Petrobras oil deal with Trafigura.

Luz has now been sentenced to over 13 years for bribery in a separate case, and the other middlemen in the report are being investigated or awaiting trial.

“This is not the first time we’ve discovered commodities traders are embroiled with shadowy middlemen. As the biggest companies most of the world has never heard of, these companies operate away from public scrutiny and use secret companies to maintain their anonymity. That needs to change,” said Ed Davey, Global Witness investigator. “Corruption has destroyed trust in democracy for lots of Brazilians, and across the rest of the world. If these companies had a role to play in that their investors, their employees and the authorities need to know.”

Glencore, Vitol and Trafigura have a combined revenue of over $500 billion, exercising huge power over the global raw materials trade. Last month it emerged that the US Department of Justice has subpoenaed Glencore over its middlemen in Congo, Nigeria and Venezuela. Past Global Witness and Public Eye reports have exposed Glencore and Trafigura's ties to fixers close to the rulers of Congo and Angola.

“The UK, US and Switzerland all come into play in this scandal, as important bases for the companies involved and home to bank accounts of the middlemen”, said Mariana Abreu of Global Witness. “Authorities in those countries must investigate to find out if the commodity traders used bribery to secure Brazilian oil deals.” 

The evidence of the middlemen’s alleged bribery emerged only after their work on oil deals for the commodity traders. Glencore and Vitol admitted using the fixers, but say the dealings were legitimate and that they did not know of any unlawful activities at the time. Trafigura acknowledged proposing the oil deal to Petrobras, but denied it had “retained” the Deacon. Trafigura would not say if it promised him a commission.

All three companies say they have a strong anti-bribery policy. Neither Brazil’s police nor Trafigura would comment on whether the firm was under investigation.

* Read Friends in low places here

* Public Eye

* Global Witness


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