Glencore pleads guilty to bribery related to African oil operations

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SFO says subsidiary of commodity trading company will be sentenced in November

A subsidiary of the commodity trader Glencore has pleaded guilty in a London court to seven counts of bribery related to its oil operations in several African countries.

The Serious Fraud Office, which had brought charges against the FTSE 100-listed company after conducting an investigation, said the sentencing hearing would take place on 2 and 3 November.

Last month, Glencore said it would pay a $1.1bn (£900m) US settlement, and indicated it would plead guilty in the UK. The SFO had formally charged the company at Westminster magistrates court in London with bribery offences for preferential access to oil between 2011 and 2016. The case was subsequently sent to the higher Southwark crown court for Tuesday’s plea hearing.

The SFO said on Tuesday: “Glencore Energy (UK) Ltd has today been convicted on all charges of bribery brought against it by the Serious Fraud Office. At Southwark crown court, the company admitted to multiple counts of paying bribes to secure access to oil and generate illicit profit.

“The SFO’s investigation exposed that Glencore, via its employees and agents, paid bribes of over $28m for preferential access to oil, including increased cargoes, valuable grades of oil and preferable dates of delivery. These actions were approved by the company across its oil operations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan.”

US and UK authorities started investigations into alleged bribery and corruption at Glencore’s oil operations in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In February, Glencore said it had set aside $1.5bn to cover potential fines and costs related to the investigations in the UK, US and Brazil. While significant, that amount was far below the $4bn that Glencore said would be returned to shareholders after record profits.

Glencore said it had nothing to add to the statement it made on 24 May, when it said the payments to resolve the investigations were “not expected to differ materially” from the $1.5bn provision. The firm said at the time it had cooperated with the investigations in the US, UK and Brazil and made “substantial investments” to improve its ethics and compliance programme. It also said it had dismissed or disciplined employees involved in the wrongdoing.

The US attorney general said last month that the $1.1bn settlement agreed with Glencore would resolve both a decade-long scheme to bribe foreign officials across seven countries, and separate criminal and civil charges alleging that one of the company’s trading arms manipulated fuel oil prices at two of the largest US shipping ports.

Glencore has agreed to pay about $40m to settle bribery allegations in Brazil – nearly $30m to the state-run Brazilian oil company Petrobras in compensation for defrauding the company, and about $10m to Brazilian authorities in civil penalties, according to prosecutors.

Dutch and Swiss authorities are also investigating alleged wrongdoing, some of which is thought to be related to operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Helen Taylor, a legal researcher at the Spotlight on Corruption campaign group, said: “Glencore’s guilty pleas today are hugely significant as a major corporate bribery conviction, but it’s now critical that the court impose a fine that reflects the staggering scale and seriousness of this corporate criminality otherwise companies like Glencore will simply write this off as the cost of doing business.

“A priority at sentencing must also be Glencore’s obligation to compensate the victims of its corruption in west Africa. If the SFO wants to ensure effective deterrence and real accountability for corporate wrongdoing, the bottom line is that those senior executives who gave their backing to this bribery scheme must now be investigated promptly and prosecuted.”

The Glencore chair, Kalidas Madhavpeddi, said in May: “Glencore today is not the company it was when the unacceptable practices behind this misconduct occurred.”

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