Glencore Energy UK was ordered to pay nearly 281 million pounds (U.S. $314 million) in fines and costs after an investigation by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) found it paid $29 million in bribes to gain preferential access to oil in Africa to boost profits.
The penalty is the largest ever for an SFO case following a corporate conviction, largely because of the fact senior officials had deliberately authorized the bribery rather than failed to prevent it.
Two of the individuals involved in the misconduct were business ethics officers or on the business ethics committee at Glencore’s London office and are still under investigation, according to a source close to the information.
The company, which trades commodities, pleaded guilty in June to seven charges of bribery after an SFO investigation found it had paid bribes to maximize its oil trading profits in five African countries.
“The facts demonstrate not only significant criminality but sophisticated devices to disguise it,” said Mr. Justice Fraser at Southwark Crown Court on Nov. 3. He described the bribery as “endemic” and “accepted as part of … doing business.”
The judge warned, “Other companies tempted to engage in similar corruption should be aware that similar sanctions lie ahead.”
In 2019, the SFO opened an investigation into Glencore’s London-based West Africa desk, which sourced and traded in crude oil from countries across Africa.
The investigation uncovered a trail of text messages, large cash withdrawals, and deliberately concealed payments that showed the company paid bribes to secure access to oil in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and South Sudan.
Glencore used well-connected local agents to bribe officials in state-owned oil companies and government ministries and disguised illicit payments as an unspecified “service fee,” “signing bonus,” or “success fee” in financial reports.
For example, in August 2011, two Glencore executives took $800,000 in cash in a private jet to “open an office” in South Sudan. However, the money went to government officials, paid via a local agent. Further cash payments worth $275,000 followed.
Between 2012 and 2015, another Glencore trader withdrew $8.2 million in cash from the company’s Swiss cash desk for “office expenses” in Cameroon—despite the fact there was no office—while a Nigerian agent withdrew $5.5 million in “service fees” to bribe officials in Cameroon’s national oil and gas companies.
The SFO estimated Glencore gained around £93.5 million (U.S. $105 million) in business from paying bribes, which is being repaid as part of its settlement.
In a statement, Glencore Chairman Kalidas Madhavpeddi said, “The conduct that took place was inexcusable and has no place in Glencore. The company is committed to operating a company that creates value for all stakeholders by operating transparently under a well-defined set of values, with openness and integrity at the forefront. The company has taken significant action towards implementing a world-class ethics and compliance program built around risk assessment, policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines based on international best practice, associated training, and awareness initiatives as well as monitoring systems.”
This is the first sentence to be handed down to Glencore for bribery offenses, though others appear likely.
On May 24, Glencore announced it had reached coordinated resolutions of bribery investigations by authorities in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Brazil. It also resolved separate U.S. investigations relating to market manipulation, which resulted in a $486 million penalty in September. The company promised to invest “substantial resources” in its ethics and compliance program.
Corruption investigations are ongoing in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
SFO Director Lisa Osofsky said Glencore’s “ruthless greed and criminality have been rightfully exposed.”
“This has been a landmark case in U.K. anti-bribery enforcement, marking the first time since the introduction of the Bribery Act 2010 that a corporate has been convicted for the active authorization of bribery, rather than purely a failure to prevent it,” she added.