Corruption within mining giant Glencore, which pleaded guilty to making bribes, was “condoned at a very senior level”, a court has heard.
Glencore Energy UK Limited, part of the huge commodities trader, admitted five counts of bribery and two of failure to prevent bribery earlier this year.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said the charges came after it launched an investigation in 2019 which found that Glencore had, via its employees and agents, paid bribes of more than 28 million US dollars (£23 million) for preferential access to oil, including increased cargoes, valuable grades of oil and preferable dates of delivery.
On the first day of sentencing on Wednesday, Southwark Crown Court heard the cost of harm caused by the misconduct between March 2012 to April 2016 is more than £81 million.
The total financial benefit Glencore made from the payment of bribes came at an agreed value of £93.5m, the court heard.
Alexandra Healy KC, prosecuting, said: “Glencore has pleaded guilty to paying bribes, through its agents and employees, to officials in several jurisdictions for commercial advantages, namely securing crude oil cargoes at specific grades and on preferred dates.
“In Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, Glencore paid USD 26,901,820 through intermediaries, agents and employees intending a portion to be paid as bribes to those concerned in allocating crude oil, primarily officials in state-owned oil companies.
“In Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan, Glencore made payments of USD 1,000,000 and USD 1,075,000 respectively to its agents and failed to prevent them from using a portion of those funds to pay bribes to officials in order to secure valuable oil contracts.”
The court heard about Glencore’s anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) policies and procedures, relevant to its appointment and payment of intermediaries.
Ms Healy wrote in her summary: “However, these were largely ignored because corruption was condoned at a very senior level within the company generally.”
She went on: “There was a stark contrast between the true culture of the company and that set out in the policies.”
The court heard Glencore paid nearly £3 million in bribes in the form of “service fees” through its agent, referred to as NG Ltd, to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the nation’s state oil corporation, between March 2012 and April 2014.
Ms Healy said this would reward NNPC for making decisions such as who could purchase crude oil, who would receive it, when this would occur and the grades of oil allocated.
Ms Healy told the court: “These addenda, purportedly for ‘service fees’ were a sham. They were used to disguise the true purpose of the payments which was to enable NG Ltd to bribe NNPC officials in order to gain preferential treatment for Glencore.”
The SFO has charged Glencore with 7 counts of bribery, following an investigation – codenamed Operation Azoth – which exposed bribery and corruption in the company’s oil operations in West Africa.
Glencore has indicated it will plead guilty to all charges.
— Serious Fraud Office (SFO) (@UKSFO) May 24, 2022
In another instance, the firm paid millions in bribes through its employee, an oil trader referred to as GE1, to Cameroon’s national oil and gas company.
GE1 paid bribes to officials in companies to ensure Glencore was successful in selling crude oil at prices that were “advantageous”, the court heard.
It was told Glencore made nearly £28 million from its bribes via an agent in Ivory Coast between July 2011 and April 2016.
The court was also told the firm failed to prevent bribery in Equatorial Guinea at the end of 2011.
Glencore made a USD 1,000,000 payment to its agent in the country disguised as a loan in the internal accounting system.
Ms Healy said: “A portion of that sum was used to bribe officials in GEPetrol to secure crude oil cargoes for Glencore.
“Glencore failed to prevent the payment of bribes by its agent.”
During a similar time period, bribes were paid to officials to secure crude oil cargoes for a joint venture company involving Glencore and South Sudan’s state oil company.
Ms Healy said: “Glencore executives travelled to the country shortly after its independence with USD 800,000 in cash.
“Soon afterwards the joint venture company by secured two million barrels of crude oil.
“A second cash withdrawal was made of USD 275,000 and shortly thereafter the joint venture company was awarded 600,000 barrels of crude oil.
“The recorded reasons for these large cash withdrawals were false.”
Ms Healy went on to say the each of the seven counts showed “high culpability, some demonstrating the “corruption of local or national government officials”.
She added: “Corruption was endemic with the corporation. Attempts were made to conceal the misconduct.”
Clare Montgomery KC, representing Glencore while the firm’s chairman Kalidas Madhavpeddi was in court, condemned the “inexplicable conduct”.
She said: “The company unreservedly regrets the harm caused by the offences.”
Ms Montgomery argued although the misconduct was embedded in the firm’s West Africa trading desk, it was not widespread across the company.
The SFO said it carried out a “large, highly complex” case reviewing more than one million documents and conducted interviews under caution.
It is the first corporate conviction under section one of the Bribery Act 2010, the SFO said.
Proof the offences were committed with the authorisation of those senior executives who have the “directing mind and will” of the company was required.
Glencore will be sentenced on Thursday morning.