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Mining giant pleads guilty to bribery in Africa, South America

This 2014 photo shows Glencore headquarters in Switzerland. The commodities trader supplies key raw materials such as oil, copper, wheat and owns plants, warehouses and mines.   -  
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Urs Flueeler/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


A subsidiary of Swiss-based mining giant Glencore, pleaded guilty to seven counts of bribery in a London court Tuesday. The firm will pay up to $1.5 bln after other subsidiaries pleaded guilty to bribe in Brazil and the US. The United States department of Justice said on May 24 the natural resource firm had entered a plea agreement to foreign bribery and market manipulation schemes.

Speaking to the media, U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland, gave more details on the settlement:  "Glencore has agreed to pay approximately $700 million in penalties for its decade long scheme to bribe foreign officials in seven different countries. The second plea involves Glencore's U.S. commodities trading arm, Glencore Limited, which engaged in a scheme to manipulate fuel oil prices at two of the busiest commercial shipping ports in the United States over the course of eight years. Glencore has agreed to pay approximately $485 million in penalties. This represents the Justice Department's largest criminal enforcement action to date for a commodity price manipulation conspiracy in oil markets."

According to the British Serious Fraud Office (SFO), company agents and employees paid bribes worth over $25m for preferential access to oil in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and South Sudan. All, with Glencore’s approval between 2011 and 2016.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, presented some of the findings of the American probe: "Glencore paid over $100 million in bribes to government officials in Brazil, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Venezuela. The bribery scheme here spanned the globe. Glencore paid bribes to secure oil contracts. Glencore paid bribes to avoid government audits. Glencore paid bribes to judges to make lawsuits disappear. Why did Glencore do it? They did it to make money. Hundreds of millions of dollars. And they did it with the approval and even the encouragement of top executives."

Holding accountable

In 2018, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) launched an investigation into Glencore's compliance with American money-laundering and corruption laws dating back as far as 2007. It concerned the mining giant's operations in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela.

The UK's Serious Fraud Office followed suit in 2019, investigating one of Glencore's UK subsidiaries over "suspicions of bribery" in Africa.

Spotlight on Corruption, a British NGO, welcomed the charges adding on Twitter: "It’s also critical that the US$1.5 billion that Glencore has set aside to settle the investigations includes compensation for the [African] victims of their alleged corruption." 

"Glencore today is not the company it was when the unacceptable practices behind this misconduct occurred," chairman Kalidas Madhavpeddi said in a statement, adding that Glencore was committed to "act ethically and responsibly across all aspects of its business."

The firm will find how much it must pay in fines at a sentencing in June. It has also settled Brazilian bribery charges against it, but said Dutch and Swiss investigations remained ongoing.

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