Philia’s refined ventures in Brazzaville

© Antonin Borgeaud
This Public Eye report based on information from a whistle-blower reveals that the unknown Swiss commodities trader Philia got rich at the expense of the Congolese refinery Coraf – and how it did so. The state-owned firm Coraf is managed by the Republic of Congo’s son, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, who is facing numerous allegations of embezzlement. The case illustrates the problems that plague the commodity sector, notably the risk that oil rents be misappropriated at the expense of the populations of producer countries.

Report: Philia's Refined Ventures in Brazzaville

How Swiss Traders Misappropriate Congolese Oil Rents

Access to exclusive documents enabled Public Eye to analyse the Congolese oil refinery Coraf’s business model and a contract to supply oil personally signed by the son of Congo Brazzaville’s president, by Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso – known as “Kiki” – and the trading company Philia. The contract and invoices clearly show to what extent Philia made significant profit from Coraf’s generosity. They show how the state-owned refinery managed by Kiki provided the small Geneva-based commodities trader with payment conditions for its oil cargoes that allowed it to bypass the compliance procedures usually conducted by banks when allocating credit.

By immediately re-selling its cargoes to third parties, including other notable Swiss commodities traders, Philia acted as a pure intermediary between Coraf and the global market for refined petroleum products. The trading company, owned by one of Kiki’s inner circle, pocketed substantial profits for zero logistical effort. For its part, Coraf made huge holes in coffers of the Republic of the Congo, which is ranked 135 of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. For three years the state did not receive a single penny in exchange for the oil it allocates to the refinery. This is unsurprising given that Coraf and the entire national oil export industry is controlled by the notoriously corrupt “Kiki”. The case typifies the problems of the commodities sector and in particular the risk that the population is deprived of the profits generated by the extraction of raw materials. Kiki squanders millions on his luxurious lifestyle whilst his people live in abject poverty.

  • © Baudouin Mouanda/Jeune Afrique
  • © Pascal Deloche/Godong/Keystone
«Kiki», son of president Denis Sassou Nguesso, squanders millions on his luxurious lifestyle whilst his people live in abject poverty.

Switzerland must make it impossible for companies based in Switzerland to engage in business practices prone to corruption, otherwise it will become complicit in the plundering of the natural wealth of poor countries. There are ways of doing so – hence why we call for payment transparency or a commodity supervisory authority such as ROHMA.

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