Trafigura will face a first-of-its-kind criminal trial in Switzerland for alleged bribery of Angolan public officials, and has set aside US$127mn following a separate US investigation into corruption claims in Brazil. 

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) announced on December 6 it had filed an indictment against Trafigura in the country’s federal criminal court, following a two-and-a-half-year investigation into alleged corrupt payments between 2009 and 2011. 

It accuses Mike Wainwright, the commodity trader’s former chief operating officer, of approving bank transfers totalling more than €4mn plus cash payments of €604,000, which ultimately reached an Angolan official who is not named in the indictment but is also charged. 

In return, the official favoured Trafigura when awarding eight ship chartering contracts and one bunkering contract from Angola’s state-owned oil and gas company Sonangol, the indictment says. It adds the trader made profits of nearly US$150mn as a result. 

A third individual from an offshore company is accused of acting as an intermediary, while Trafigura Beheer BV – then parent company of Trafigura’s commodity trading group – is charged with failing to prevent bribery of foreign public officials. 

The OAG says it is “the first time [that] the Federal Criminal Court is called upon to judge the criminal liability of a company for bribery of foreign public officials”. 

Trafigura says in a statement it will “defend itself at court, including in view of the compliance and anti-bribery and corruption controls in place at the relevant time”. 

It adds that OAG “decided to send the case to court” even though Trafigura Beheer BV was willing to resolve the investigation. 

Wainwright rejects the charges and will defend himself in court, the statement adds. 

Trafigura has also set aside US$127mn to close a US investigation into “improper payments made in Brazil”, its statement says. 

The company says it expects to resolve the probe “shortly” and will disclose the provision in its 2023 annual report. The conduct in question was also approximately 10 or more years ago, it says. The US Department of Justice has not disclosed details of the case. 

Trafigura adds that it is still seeking to resolve a civil lawsuit in Brazil, though has not provided further information. 

In November 2020, Brazilian federal prosecutors alleged that Trafigura bribed former employees at the country’s state-owned oil and gas company Petrobras in exchange for 31 contracts for the purchase and sale of oil. The transactions took place between May 2012 and October 2013. 

At the time, Trafigura strongly denied the allegations, saying: “Any suggestion that Trafigura’s current management authorised or had knowledge of improper payments to employees of Petrobras are not supported by evidence.” 

Commenting on the Swiss, US and Brazilian investigations, Trafigura’s executive chairman and chief executive Jeremy Weir says: “We sincerely regret these incidents which breached our code of conduct and are contrary to our values. 

“We have made extensive efforts over many years to instil a culture of responsible conduct at Trafigura. Since the period in question, we have significantly enhanced our compliance programme and controls.” 

The announcement follows a string of enforcement actions against commodity traders accused of bribing officials to secure overseas business. 

In May 2022, Glencore announced it would pay US$1.5bn to authorities in the US, UK and Brazil after pleading guilty to a 10-year international bribery scheme as well as a plot to manipulate commodity prices.  

Two years previously, Vitol agreed to pay US$135mn to US and Brazilian authorities after admitting it had bribed officials in Brazil, Mexico and Ecuador, muscling out competitors and gaining contracts from the countries’ state-owned oil firms in the process.