The international commodities trading company resolved a long-standing bribery case with the US DOJ 

Trafigura agreed to pay over $126 million to settle the US Department of Justice’s investigation into a case that involved employees and agents who wanted to secure business with Brazil’s state-owned and controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras). 

Between 2003 and 2014, Trafigura, which is headquartered in Switzerland, paid bribes to Petrobras officials in order to secure and maintain contracts with the oil company. Under the scheme, Trafigura, along with its co-conspirators, made illicit payments of up to 20 cents per barrel of oil products bought from or sold to Petrobras. The bribes were concealed in shell companies or funnelled through intermediaries who used offshore bank accounts to deliver cash to officials in Brazil. 

Trafigura pled guilty to charges of bribery in Brazil or one count of conspiracy to violate the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As part of the deal, the company agreed to pay $80.5m in fines and forfeited profits of $46.5m. 

The car wash

The payments were connected to Brazil’s biggest political corruption case, Lava Jato, which means car wash. This was a huge contracts-for-kickbacks scheme that was centred on  Petrobras. Company executives were revealed to have taken bribes for handing out contracts in a conspiracy that even involved a construction cartel. 

Dozens of politicians and businessmen went to prison as the Lava Jato case unravelled. In the course of the investigation, it was revealed that Trafigura’s office in Rio de Janeiro was the site where some of the cash payments were made. 

This plea is the first time that Trafigura actually admitted to being involved in the Car Wash scandal. (Company rivals Glencore and Vitol already admitted to bribery in the scandal to settle broader corruption probes.) Six years ago, Brazilian prosecutors charged two former Trafigura executives for allegedly paying bribes of about $1.5m.

With this plea, the civil case into Trafigura in Brazil for the Car Wash scandal has been suspended but some of the $127m can be used for settlements with Brazilian authorities. 

In our series on bribery stories, we examine the details of the case, look at what the company did wrong and, importantly, provide tips on how companies can mitigate bribery risks when conducting business.