Glencore Energy today pleaded guilty on seven charges of bribery and failing to prevent bribery in relation to a series of African oil deals.
The Anglo-Swiss firm pleaded guilty on all seven counts put forward to it at Southwark Crown Court, after charges were brought against the company by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Glencore’s barristers – Clare Montgomery from Matrix Chambers and Katherine Hardcastle from 6KBW – told Southwark Crown Court the company had admitted paying bribes to secure access to oil and generate illicit profit.
The hearing comes after an SFO’s investigation revealed that Glencore, via its employees and agents, paid bribes of more than $28m to officials working in a number of major state-backed African oil companies, in order to win preferential access to oil, including increased cargoes, valuable grades of oil and preferable dates of delivery.
The charges included claims Glencore paid more than $4.9m in bribes to officials working in Nigeria’s state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation between March 2012 and April 2014 with a view to gaining favour for oil contracts.
The SFO also said Glencore paid more than $10m in bribes to officials in Cameroon’s state-owned oil company, Société Nationale des Hydrocarbures and the Société Nationale de Raffinage, with a view to winning oil contracts.
These actions were approved by the company across its oil operations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan.
Glencore will now face a sentencing hearing on 2 November 2022, during the which the company could be hit with a criminal conviction or unlimited fines.
The pleas come after Glencore last month set aside $1.5bn to settle charges brought forward by US, Brazilian, and UK authorities in relation to the African deals.
The SFO charges came after the agency first launched its investigation into Glencore – dubbed Operation Azoth – in 2019.
Helen Taylor, a legal researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said that while Glencore’s guilty pleas today are “hugely significant.”
However, the researcher said it is now important that “the court impose a fine that reflects the staggering scale and seriousness of this corporate criminality” to ensure companies like Glencore do not simply write off any fines 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,” Taylor said.
Taylor also called on the SFO to bring forward prosecutions against the “senior executives who gave their backing to this bribery scheme” to deter similar bribery schemes from happening in the future.
Syed Rahman, a partner at London law firm Rahman Ravelli, hailed Glencore’s pleas as a victory for the SFO, as he argued the “investigation has shown what the SFO can achieve through cooperation” with international authorities.