Gunvor in the Congo: new disclosures undermine the trader’s case

Public Eye has seen a new legal document showing that up to six employees from oil trader Gunvor had authorised the payment of suspicious commissions to “facilitate” profitable oil contracts in the Republic of Congo. This information seriously undermines Gunvor’s defence case, in which the trader claims to have been a victim of a former lone wolf employee “acting without the company’s knowledge and much to the detriment of the company”. This decisive fact led Switzerland’s attorney general to initiate legal proceedings against Gunvor for “organizational shortcomings” linked to possible acts of corruption of foreign public servants.

Until Public Eye published its report in September 2017, Gunvor had managed to suggest that it was not responsible for financial misconduct relating to the purchase of oil worth 2.2 billion dollars in Congo-Brazzaville between 2010 and 2012. Public Eye was able to consult correspondence sent in June by the Prosecutor to the parties involved in the legal proceedings. It shows that the trading company’s management was aware of the facts and authorised the payment of commissions worth 31.9 million dollars, presumably corrupt. According to the Federal Prosecutor, it has been established that the payments made by Gunvor were not merely authorised internally, but that they were also confirmed several times externally, specifically to Crédit Suisse, the bank that was holding the middlemen’s accounts. In the transfer of one such sum, six Gunvor employees signed off on the invoice payment. These new facts flagrantly contradict the trader’s statement, in which the apparently corrupt payments were made “unbeknownst to Gunvor” by their “former employee” who was laid off in 2012.

The traders received advance warning of Public Eye’s investigative report, and launched a crisis communication campaign. Gunvor contacted Reuters news agency last Monday to say they were being prosecuted for “organizational shortcomings”. This is the only article in the Swiss Penal Code that enables corporations rather than individuals to be prosecuted under criminal law. Gunvor had been caught out by a pirated video made in 2014 that showed a senior member of management attempting corruption. Knowing this behaviour was about to be revealed by Public Eye, Gunvor once again claimed to be the victim of “unacceptable individual behaviour”. The trader also said that its internal procedures had since been strengthened to “world class” standards. It is worth noting that the company already claimed to have made such efforts before this attempted corruption took place.

In their statement, the company is also suggesting that the investigation against their former employee is on-going and has only been “expanded” to include the company itself. However, the main enquiry into the affair of money laundering is not against the ex-employee. Gunvor’s attempts to prosecute this “felonious employee” had, in fact, been suspended some time ago, according to the Prosecution document dating back to June.

For further information contact:
Oliver Classen, Media Director, +41 44 277 79 06, oliver.classen[at]
Marc Guéniat, Senior Researcher, +41 21 620 03 02, marc.gueniat[at]