Last week, the Attorney General and a host of other Department of Justice (DOJ) officials announced the settlement of a massive Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and market manipulation case against Glencore plc (Glencore). Over the next several blog posts, I will be reviewing the matter and mining it for lessons learned for the compliance community. Today, in Part II, we consider the bribes paid by Glencore in violation of the FCPA.
The case involved massive bribery and corruption perpetrated by Glencore in multiple countries by multiple subsidiaries, involving multiple executives at the highest levels of the company. The resolution with the DOJ imposed $429 million in criminal penalties and forfeiture of $272 million. According to the FCPA Blog (who as usual broke the story for the compliance community), “as part of the U.S. resolution, a subsidiary of Glencore also agreed to plead guilty and pay $485.6 million to resolve market manipulation investigations by the DOJ and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. After crediting about $166 million of that payment to amounts to be paid in the UK and possibly other countries, penalties assessed in the United States will be just over $1 billion.”
According to the Information, Glencore engaged in a conspiracy for over a decade to pay more than $100 million to third-party intermediaries, while intending that a significant portion of these payments would be used to pay bribes to officials in several countries including Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Brazil, Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
According to the DOJ Press Release, “Between approximately 2007 and 2018, Glencore and its subsidiaries caused approximately $79.6 million in payments to be made to intermediary companies in order to secure improper advantages to obtain and retain business with state-owned and state-controlled entities in West Africa, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Equatorial Guinea. Glencore concealed the bribe payments by entering into sham consulting agreements, paying inflated invoices, and using intermediary companies to make corrupt payments to foreign officials.”
In Nigeria, Glencore and its UK subsidiaries entered into multiple agreements to purchase crude oil and refined petroleum products from Nigeria’s state-owned and state-controlled oil company. Glencore and its subsidiaries engaged two intermediaries to pursue business opportunities and other improper business advantages, including the award of crude oil contracts, while knowing that the intermediaries would make bribe payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain such business. In Nigeria alone, Glencore and its subsidiaries paid more than $52 million to the intermediaries, intending that those funds be used, at least in part, to pay bribes to Nigerian officials.
What is most striking about reading the Information is how mundane the actions of Glencore were in this massive bribery and corruption scheme. The scheme itself went on for over 10 years and was directly supported by executives at the highest levels of the company. The schemes involved the creation of sham third parties which used sham contracts to make sham payments that were designed to be paid as bribes to corrupt Nigerian officials. Although not clear from the Information, it appears that one entity, identified as ‘West African Intermediary Company’, was engaged to identify corruption Nigerian officials to bribe. They were called ‘business opportunities.’
Illegal payments were made to access oilfields and to purchase crude oil itself. Often the latter was done by undervaluing the pricing for a cargo of crude oil or outright bribery to get the crude oil itself. Bribe payments were called “newspapers or journals or pages”. Another scheme was called the ‘Swap Agreement’ where money was funneled to the West African Intermediary Company who would then resell the crude oil to Glencore UK subsidiaries for distribution throughout the UK and beyond. Payments were made though US banks (thereby creating US and FCPA jurisdiction) disguised as campaign contributions and hidden in Switzerland and Cyprus banks.
Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea
In Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea, Glencore paid over $27 million in bribes over a multi-year period. The same basic bribery schemes, sham third parties, contracts and payments, were used involving the West African Intermediary Company to pay bribes to corrupt government officials. However, there was an interesting wrinkle for bribes paid in these countries which was the maintenance of a “Cash Desk” in both London and Baar, Switzerland. From these offices cash payments were made to officials in these countries.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In the DRC, Glencore admitted that it conspired to corruptly offer and pay approximately $27.5 million to third parties, while intending for a portion of the payments to be used as bribes to DRC officials to secure improper business advantages. The improper business advantages were around audits required of Glencore’s mining operations in the country. When Glencore received an audit notice from the DRC government, the company would simply pay a bribe to have the audit notice quashed and no audit would occur. Additionally, Glencore paid a straight $500,000 to have a corrupt judge wrongfully dismiss a lawsuit against the company. The bribe was paid through a corrupt lawyer, who falsely billed the company for $500,000 worth of never-delivered legal services and then used the monies to pay the bribe.
Brazil and Venezuela
Glencore also admitted to bribery of officials in Brazil and Venezuela. In Brazil, the bribes were paid in the heyday of Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) before Operation Car Wash blew the lid off the corrupt culture of Brazil’s national energy concern. The primary scheme in Brazil was to overpay for crude oil from Petrobras in terms of a “price that included a built-in delta” which represented the bribe amount. Here a corruption agent was used to facilitate this bribe and all communications were through personal email accounts that somehow eluded oversight or employer monitoring. Once again payments were made through US banks adding to the US jurisdiction. In Venezuela, the scheme was a bit different as the goal was not the obtaining of crude but late payments due Glencore from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) and demurrage fees as well. Bribes were paid to PdVSA officials to secure out of line payments.
Tomorrow we will consider the Commodity Price Manipulation Case.