Fri | Nov 22, 2019

Swiss fine commodities giant Gunvor over bribes in Africa

Published:Friday | October 18, 2019 | 12:17 AM

Swiss authorities have ordered commodities trading giant Gunvor to pay nearly 94 million Swiss francs in compensation and fines for failing to stop its representatives from bribing public officials to gain access to oil markets in the Congo and Ivory Coast.

The Swiss attorney general’s office says it found “serious deficiencies” in the firm’s internal organisation that led to its inability to block the bribery and corruption between 2008 and 2011, which led to a federal criminal court ruling in the case in August last year.

The office said Thursday it ordered Gunvor to pay compensation of nearly 90 million Swiss francs, “which corresponds to the total profit that Gunvor made from the business in question,” and four million francs in fines.

An official probe by Swiss authorities turned up no code of conduct, no compliance programme, no internal audit programme ,or that any staff member was in place to lead any work to reduce the risk of corruption at the time.

“The investigation revealed that during the period under scrutiny, Gunvor had taken no organisational measures to prevent corruption in its business activities,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

Swiss authorities turned up tens of millions of dollars in commissions paid between 2009 and 2012 when the company used “agents” to obtain petroleum shipments.

The attorney general’s office said it didn’t impose the maximum five-million-franc fine in such cases under Swiss law, saying that decision “takes account in particular of efforts it (the company) has made since 2012” to improve its organisation and efforts to prevent corruption.

The company acknowledged wrongdoing and said it has cleaned up its act.

“Gunvor Group ... has admitted guilt with respect to having had organisational shortcomings during the years 2008-11 that did not prevent an ex-employee from undertaking corruptive activities in Congo-Brazzaville and Ivory Coast,” it said in a statement.

CEO Torbjorn Tornqvist said Gunvor had been growing “very fast” at the time.

“We did not have the right procedures in place,” he said. “Today, we have a top-tier compliance programme, and we continue to improve our programme as the risks and markets continue to change.”

Gunvor, which was co-founded by Tornqvist in 2000, has about 1,500 employees worldwide who help source crude oil and refined oil products traded in more than 100 countries. Its main trading office is in Geneva, but its headquarters are in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Last year, Gunvor had revenue of US$87 billion.

– AP