(Bloomberg) -- Glencore Plc officials delivered cash in private jets to officials across Africa, UK prosecutors said as they laid out a web of bribery and corruption orchestrated by the London oil trading desk.
The company, founded by Marc Rich, admitted to seven counts of bribery across countries including Nigeria and Cameroon, following a Serious Fraud Office investigation. Prosecutors said the company paid more than $28 million in bribes to secure access to oil cargoes. It marks the first time a corporate has been convicted for paying bribes, according to the SFO.
A London judge will determine the final fine on Thursday.
“Corruption was condoned at a very senior level within the company generally” and the west African trading desk specifically, prosecutors said in a case summary made public Wednesday.
The sentencing draws a line for the company in the UK under a series of long-running investigations, but leaves open the possibility of charges against former employees. An SFO prosecutor said Oct. 24 as many as 11 ex-staff were under investigation for criminal wrongdoing.
In May, Glencore said it expected to pay around $1.5 billion in total to resolve investigations in the US, UK and Brazil, of which $1.06 billion was payable to agencies in the US and Brazil. Glencore made a $410 million provision for the UK fine in the 2021 accounts of its UK subsidiary. It also faces ongoing investigations in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
“Corruption was endemic within the corporation,” Alexandra Healy, a lawyer for the SFO, said in court. “The approving and offering of bribes was an acceptable way of doing business at the company.”
Glencore gained profits of nearly $128 million from the bribery. In addition to confiscation orders, the overall size of the penalty is likely to be calculated with a multiplier of between 250% and 400% before any other mitigation is taken into account.
At the hearing attended by Glencore’s chair, Kalidas Madhavpeddi, the company’s lawyer said the company “unreservedly regrets the harm caused by these offenses.” Madhavpeddi declined to comment on the proceedings when approached by Bloomberg outside the court.
Clare Montgomery said there had been an extensive program of corporate reform since the charges. “The chairman and the board who now run the company are committed to it in the future.”
The SFO said previously that its investigation showed the commodity trader paid for preferential access to oil, including increased cargoes, valuable grades of oil and preferable dates of delivery, between 2011 and 2016.
Prosecutors laid out a scheme that traders on the firm’s crude oil desk in London disguised payments “to give the illusion that these payments were for legitimate services.”
The SFO detailed how the company used a cash desk in its Swiss headquarters and private jets in Africa to courier illicit payments across west Africa to pay state officials bribes.
Using sham payments to an agent the company paid bribes to officials in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo.
The SFO said Glencore paid more than €4 million ($4 million) to the agent, identified as NG1, that were disguised as service fees. The agent then withdrew the money in Nigeria and flew it, often by private jet, to Cameroon where it was made available to a Glencore oil trader who used it to pay bribes.
The guilty plea is a much-needed win for the SFO, which has suffered a series of humiliating court reversals due to missteps by the agency’s leadership. A government-requested review said that some of the failures in another high-profile oil corruption case were caused by “cultural issues” within the SFO.
--With assistance from Jack Farchy.
(Updates with comments from SFO throughout.)
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