The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland has ordered Gunvor to pay almost 94 million Swiss francs ($94.7mn) for failing to prevent corruption in Congo Brazzaville and Cote d’Ivoire.
The OAG convicted subsidiaries of the trader, Gunvor International BV and Gunvor Ltd, for failing to prevent the bribery of public officials in the two West African states between 2008 and 2011. The bribes were paid in order to secure access to the countries’ petroleum markets, a statement said. This follows a judgement from the Criminal Chamber of the Federal Criminal Court in August 2018.
The trader had failed to install organisational measures that were “reasonable and necessary” to prevent the payment of bribes. Gunvor lacked a code of conduct, a compliance programme, an internal audit procedure or staff working on reducing corruption risks. There were no internal guidelines and no training for employees about risks involved with corruption. “It therefore seems that Gunvor accepted that a risk of corruption was inherent in the company’s commercial activities, at least in the relevant markets,” the OAG statement said.
Commissions of tens of millions of US dollars were paid between 2009 and 2012 to agents in order to obtain cargoes. The trader failed to carry out checks on its agents. Warning signs were ignored, the OAG said, with payments made to unrelated offshore companies and letters to banks backdated.
The finding that Gunvor had failed to prevent the payment of bribes falls short of finding the trading company guilty of knowing that corruption was taking place. As such, it effectively validates Gunvor’s defence that the bribes were paid by individuals but that the company as an institution had clean hands.
The OAG said Gunvor had been fined 4mn francs ($4.02mn) Under the Swiss criminal code, the maximum fine was 5mn francs ($5.04mn). The remaining 90mn francs ($90.6mn) comes as compensation, representing the total profit Gunvor made from the business in question.
The OAG has been investigating Gunvor since December 2011. The statement said a number of individuals, including a former employee of the trader, are under investigation.
A Gunvor employee received a suspended 18 months in prison in August 2018 in relation to the Ivoirian and Congolese affairs. Pascal Collard admitted paying bribes to Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso and was reported to have implicated managers at Gunvor. Collard was fired from Gunvor in 2012 and the trading company claimed to have had no knowledge of his activities. In Cote d’Ivoire, payments were made to the former head of the country’s state-run Petroci.
The OAG is working on a number of corruption fronts, including the Petrobras and Odebrecht case, in Brazil. In April, the Swiss authorities said they had returned 365mn francs ($367.7mn) to the Brazilian authorities.