The astonishing rise of a small Swiss trader in Russian oil

Among the biggest buyers of Russian oil is a Geneva company that almost no one has heard of. In February and March, Paramount Energy & Commodities obtained 11.7 million barrels of crude, just behind the giants Litasco, Vitol and Trafigura. The Public Eye investigation reveals how this small company enjoys strong support in Russia, in particular because of its relations with the oligarch Gennady Timchenko, who today is subject to sanctions. The fact that such an opaque structure can sell Vladimir Putin's black gold out of sight underlines the urgency of regulating the commodities sector in Switzerland.

Paramount Energy & Commodities went largely under the radar until Public Eye released data showing that the company, registered in Geneva in 2017, obtained a total of 11.7 million barrels in February and March this year, making it the fourth biggest buyer of Russian oil. Its sole director explains that these purchases concern long-term contracts negotiated “well before 24 February” and that volumes are stable. 

Public Eye investigated to profile this trading company that has made Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union its favourite playground. Located at 22 rue de Villereuse, in Geneva, Paramount shares its building and its director with around twenty other entities, many of which are also related to oil. According to several sources, its founder – also at the origin of another company, Tenergy SA – enjoyed an excellent relationship with Gennady Timchenko, co-founder of oil trading giant Gunvor and close friend of Vladimir Putin. It is this proximity in particular that has enabled Paramount to establish itself so quickly on the Russian market. When asked about this point, however, its director stated that Paramount had no business relationship with Mr Timchenko. 

According to our information, the Geneva-based company has struck gold in Russia: it often sources its supplies from “malychi”, small independent producers who sell crude at prices much lower than those practiced on the so-called “spot” markets (in cash). It then exports these volumes from the popular oil port of Kozmino, near Vladivostok, where it has a foothold alongside the giants of the sector. But it also carries out business with state-owned companies. Customs data in our possession shows that in the first half of 2021, Paramount obtained at least 19 tanker ships of crude oil and petroleum products from Gazprom Neft. Our investigation revealed that Paramount also uses an intermediary to acquire barrels: Concept Oil Services, a Hong Kong-based company whose rapid rise in the Russian market and real beneficial owners raise many questions. 

The case of Paramount is a glaring example of the notorious opacity that surrounds the commodity trading sector in Switzerland. Faced with the atrocities perpetrated in Ukraine, the Federal Council and Swiss Parliament can no longer turn a blind eye. Switzerland must mobilise with the European Union to ensure that the sanctions are extended to oil imports and trade. More than ever, it is also necessary to establish a supervisory authority for this sector, like the one imagined in 2014 by Public Eye: Rohma. This public agency would be responsible for granting licences to traders, ensuring in particular that the beneficial owners of the companies are identified and that the commodities do not come from countries under sanctions or conflict zones. 

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