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Gunvor will pay over $661m to resolve foreign bribery case

Christian Fernsby |
Gunvor S.A., an international commodities trading company based in Switzerland, has pleaded guilty and will pay over $661 million to resolve an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

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Gunvor’s guilty plea stemmed from the company’s corrupt scheme to pay substantial bribes to Ecuadorean government officials to secure business with Ecuador’s state-owned and state-controlled oil company, Petroecuador.

In connection with the resolution, Gunvor entered into a plea agreement with the government and pleaded guilty to an information charging the company with conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.

Following the plea, the court sentenced Gunvor to pay a criminal monetary penalty of $374,560,071 and to forfeit $287,138,444 in ill-gotten gains.

The sentence includes credits of up to one-quarter of the criminal fine each for amounts Gunvor pays to resolve investigations by Swiss and Ecuadorean authorities into the same misconduct so long as the payments are made within one year of today’s date.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland announced today a parallel resolution of its investigation into Gunvor’s misconduct that involved payment of approximately $98 million by Gunvor to Swiss authorities.

“Over nearly a decade, Gunvor representatives bribed high-level government officials at Ecuador’s state-owned oil company to enter into business transactions with other state-owned entities that ultimately benefited Gunvor. As a result of this complex bribery scheme, Gunvor obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profits,” said Acting Senior Counselor Brent S. Wible of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“Foreign bribery emboldens corrupt officials and undermines the rule of law. Gunvor’s guilty plea demonstrates that the Criminal Division remains resolute in our efforts to root out bribery and official corruption. We will continue to hold both corporations and individuals who bribe foreign officials to account, in coordination with our international partners.”

“Gunvor’s years-long bribery scheme involving high-level Ecuadoran officials was both detrimental to the business environment and eroded the public’s trust and confidence in their government,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey B. Veltri of the FBI Miami Field Office. “This guilty plea and significant fine would not have been possible without significant

cooperation from our international partners in the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Curacao, Ecuador, Panama, Portugal, Singapore, and Switzerland. This truly was an international effort.”

According to the company’s admissions and court documents, between 2012 and 2020, Gunvor and its co-conspirators paid more than $97 million to intermediaries knowing that some of the money would be and in fact was used to bribe Ecuadorean officials, including Nilsen Arias Sandoval, a then-high ranking official at Petroecuador.

As part of the scheme, Gunvor managers and agents attended meetings in the United States and elsewhere. The bribe payments were routed through banks in the United States using shell companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands controlled by Gunvor’s co-conspirators.

Among other things, a Gunvor employee also directed one of the intermediaries to use the money to purchase an 18-karat gold Patek Philippe watch for Arias.

In exchange for these bribe payments, high-level Ecuadorian officials helped various state-owned entities, which were acting as front companies for Gunvor, win the rights to a series of oil-backed loan contracts with Petroecuador. This structure allowed Gunvor and its co-conspirators to avoid a competitive bidding process and to obtain contractual terms that it could not have obtained otherwise.

Gunvor also received confidential Petroecuador information in exchange for the bribes. In total, Gunvor earned more than $384 million in profits from the contracts it obtained corruptly from Petroecuador.


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