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Trafigura Paid Me Bribes, Former Top Ecuador Oil Official Says – Bloomberg

Arias testifies about widespread corruption in New York trial
Other top trading houses Vitol and Gunvor also implicat
Arias testifies about widespread corruption in New York trial. Other top trading houses Vitol and Gunvor also implicat. (Getty)

Jack Farchy and Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg News

EnergiesNet.com 01 12 2024

The former head of international trade at Ecuador’s state oil company testified that he had been bribed by three of the world’s largest commodity trading companies, as a sprawling investigation into corruption in the global oil trade plays out in a New York trial.

The testimony from Nilsen Arias, who until mid-2017 was international trade manager at Petroecuador, is the first to publicly implicate Trafigura Group, the world’s second-largest independent oil trader, in the Ecuadorian corruption scheme. 

Vitol Group, the world’s largest oil trader, in 2020 admitted to having bribed government officials for more than a decade in three countries including Ecuador, while rival Gunvor Group has disclosed it faced a US investigation over bribery in Ecuador and booked a $650 million provision.

The claim will add to the pressure on Trafigura, which just last month was charged by Swiss prosecutors over allegations of bribing Angolan officials and also revealed a US investigation into improper payments in Brazil.

The allegations of bribery were described in the New York trial of former Vitol trader Javier Aguilar that marks the culmination of a years-long investigation by US prosecutors. Aguilar disputes the accusations of bribery against him, claiming that he was framed by a superior at Vitol.

The case touches many of the biggest names in the commodity trading industry, which has struggled since the days of Marc Rich to shake its reputation for backhanders and brown envelopes. 

While the Ecuador corruption investigation has been going on for several years, many of the details have remained secret until now. When the US published its charges against Arias in 2022, it listed six commodity trading companies that it said had paid him bribes, but named only Vitol.

Arias, who has been testifying for the past week, said on the witness stand on Friday that he had received bribes from “certain companies” via the Pere brothers, consultants who operated from Miami and Ecuador and, according to the US case, were used to funnel bribes to Ecuadorian officials.

Asked to name the companies, he listed Trafigura, Gunvor, Vitol and Sargeant Marine — a US asphalt company that in 2020 pleaded guilty to bribery charges in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Spokespeople for Trafigura and Gunvor declined to comment.

The case is US v. Aguilar, 20-cr-390, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). 

bloomberg.com 01 11 2024

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