Gunvor in Ecuador: Swiss prosecutor initiates a criminal investigation

A year and a half after its conviction in a vast oil bribery case in Congo-Brazzaville, the Geneva-based trader Gunvor is once again the target of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in Switzerland, due to a former employee’s alleged acts of bribery of foreign public officials and money laundering. Public Eye welcomes this move from the prosecuting authorities, which sharply contrasts with the inertia from the Federal Council vis-à-vis this high-risk sector.
© Johis Alarcón/Panos

The Swiss OAG’s decision to open a criminal procedure against persons unknown, communicated today, is based on court documents issued from the investigation conducted since 2012 by the US authorities. The US Department of Justice has accused a former Gunvor employee of having paid over USD 70 million in commissions from 2012 to 2019 to two intermediaries, of which at least USD 22 million allegedly went into the pockets of Ecuadorian officials in exchange for contracts that were favourable to Gunvor. According to its former employee, who pleaded guilty, some of Gunvor’s leadership "were aware of the bribery schemes". Public Eye has recently outlined this Ecuadorian case in its investigation A predator in the Amazon, where it exposes how the Geneva-based trader became a key player in Amazonian crude oil, without winning a single oil tender.

This scandal echoes another one involving Gunvor: in October 2019, the company was found guilty of "organisation failures" for acts of corruption in Congo-Brazzaville and Ivory Coast. And the timing of the new facts does raise questions. Because at the time when Gunvor was being investigated by Switzerland for its activities in these African markets, their former intermediary was setting up complex offshore schemes in order to pay three Ecuadorian officials for their service. In its judgment, the Swiss prosecutor had concluded that the trader did not have "a compliance programme", nor did it have "an internal audit procedure."

For years, the Swiss federal authorities have done their utmost to avoid having to curb the obvious corruption dangers within the Swiss commodity trading sector. Given the regulatory gaps and the bad faith displayed by traders, who pretend to have a «zero-policy towards corruption», the prosecuting authorities cannot be the only ones to put out fires. That’s why Public Eye calls on the Federal Council to adopt legislation and a supervisory authority which would be able to monitor a sector where risky business drives it all.

For more information, please contact:

Oliver Classen, Media Director, +41 44 277 79 06,
Adrià Budry Carbó, Commodities Investigator, +41 78 738 64 48,