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Swiss trading giant pays over $135 million to resolve FCPA offenses

Vitol Inc., the U.S. affiliate of Geneva-based Vitol group, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice Thursday to settle two charges that it conspired to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA by bribing officials in Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico.

As part of the three-year DPA, the DOJ imposed a total criminal fine of $135 million but agreed to credit $45 million that Vitol will pay to the Brazilian Ministério Público Federal.

Between 2005 and 2014, Vitol and its co-conspirators paid more than $8 million in bribes to at least four officials at Brazil’s state-owned and controlled oil company Petrobras. Vitol paid the bribes in exchange for confidential Petrobras pricing and competitor information, the DOJ said.

Vitol admitted that from 2011 to 2014, it bribed at least five other Petrobras officials in exchange for receiving confidential pricing information that was used to win fuel oil contracts with Petrobras. A consultant acting on behalf of Vitol used “back-channel negotiations” with a Houston-based Petrobras official, the DOJ said.

Vitol also admitted to a second conspiracy to bribe officials in Ecuador and Mexico between 2015 and 2020 to obtain and retain business in connection with the purchase and sale of oil products. The company paid more than $2 million in bribes as part of the scheme, the DOJ said.

The DOJ said Vitol and its co-conspirators entered into sham consulting agreements, set up shell companies, created fake invoices, and used alias email accounts to transfer funds to offshore companies involved in the conspiracy knowing that the funds would be used to pay bribes to Ecuadorian and Mexican officials.

In September, former Vitol trader Javier Aguilar, 46, a Mexican citizen living in the United States, was charged in a two-count indictment with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit money laundering. Aguilar allegedly paid $870,000 in bribes to Ecuadoran officials for help winning a $300 million fuel-oil contract with the state energy company, Petroecuador.

In a statement Thursday, Vitol CEO Russell Hardy said, “Vitol is committed to upholding the law and does not tolerate corruption or illegal business practices.”

In a related settlement, Vitol also agreed to disgorge more than $12.7 million and pay a civil penalty of $16 million to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The CFTC said Vitol’s “fraudulent and manipulative conduct — including conduct relating to foreign corruption — defrauded its counterparties, harmed other market participants, and undermined the integrity of the U.S. and global physical and derivatives oil markets. ”

Privately held Vitol group is one of the largest energy trading firms in the world.

A spokesperson for the DOJ said Thursday, “Today’s coordinated resolution with Brazil, along with our first coordinated FCPA resolution with the CFTC, underscores the department’s resolve to hold companies accountable for their crimes while, at the same time, avoiding unnecessarily duplicative penalties.”

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