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Glencore enters guilty pleas to foreign bribery and market manipulation schemes

26 May 2022

Glencore International A.G. (Glencore) and Glencore Ltd., both part of a multinational commodity trading and mining firm headquartered in Switzerland, each pleaded guilty on Tuesday (24 May) and agreed to pay over USD 1.1 billion to resolve the government’s investigations into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and a commodity price manipulation scheme, said the U.S. Department of Justice. 

These guilty pleas are part of coordinated resolutions with criminal and civil authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil.

Glencore Ltd. admitted to engaging in a multi-year scheme to manipulate fuel oil prices at two of the busiest commercial shipping ports in the U.S.

As part of the plea agreement, Glencore Ltd. agreed to pay a criminal fine of over $341 million, pay forfeiture of over $144 million, and retain an independent compliance monitor for three years.

The department has agreed to credit up to one-half of the criminal fine and forfeiture against penalties Glencore Ltd. pays to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in a related, parallel civil proceeding.

Sentencing has been scheduled in the market manipulation case for June 24, and a control date for sentencing in the FCPA case has been set for Oct. 3.

The Commodity Price Manipulation Case

According to admissions and court documents filed in the District of Connecticut, Glencore Ltd. operated a global commodity trading business, which included trading in fuel oil. Between approximately January 2011 and August 2019, Glencore Ltd. employees (including those who worked at Chemoil Corporation, which was majority-owned by Glencore Ltd.’s parent company and then fully-acquired in 2014) conspired to manipulate two benchmark price assessments published by S&P Global Platts (Platts) for fuel oil products, specifically, intermediate fuel oil 380 CST at the Port of Los Angeles (Los Angeles 380 CST Bunker Fuel) and RMG 380 fuel oil at the Port of Houston (U.S. Gulf Coast High-Sulfur Fuel Oil). The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest shipping port in the U.S. by container volume. The Port of Houston is the largest U.S. port on the Gulf Coast and the busiest port in the United States by foreign waterborne tonnage.

As part of the conspiracy, Glencore Ltd. employees sought to unlawfully enrich themselves and Glencore Ltd. itself, by increasing profits and reducing costs on contracts to buy and sell physical fuel oil, as well as certain derivative positions that Glencore Ltd. held. The price terms of the physical contracts and derivative positions were set by reference to daily benchmark price assessments published by Platts — either Los Angeles 380 CST Bunker Fuel or U.S. Gulf Coast High-Sulfur Fuel Oil — on a certain day or days plus or minus a fixed premium. On these pricing days, Glencore Ltd. employees submitted orders to buy and sell (bids and offers) to Platts during the daily trading “window” for the Platts price assessments with the intent to artificially push the price assessment up or down.

For example, if Glencore Ltd. had a contract to buy fuel oil, Glencore Ltd. employees submitted offers during the Platts “window” for the express purpose of pushing down the price assessment and hence the price of the fuel oil that Glencore Ltd. purchased. The bids and offers were not submitted to Platts for any legitimate economic reason by Glencore Ltd. employees, but rather for the purpose of artificially affecting the relevant Platts price assessment so that the benchmark price, and hence the price of fuel oil that Glencore Ltd. bought from, and sold to, another party, did not reflect legitimate forces of supply and demand.

Between approximately September 2012 and August 2016, Glencore Ltd. employees conspired to and did manipulate the price of fuel oil bought from, and sold to, a particular counterparty, Company A, through private, bilateral contracts, by manipulating the Platts price assessment for Los Angeles 380 CST Bunker Fuel. Between approximately January 2014 and February 2016, Glencore Ltd. employees also undertook a “joint venture” with Company A, which involved buying fuel oil from Company A at prices artificially depressed by Glencore Ltd.’s manipulation of the Platts Los Angeles 380 CST Bunker Fuel benchmark. Finally, between approximately January 2011 and August 2019, Glencore Ltd. employees conspired to and did manipulate the price of fuel oil bought and sold through private, bilateral contracts, as well as derivative positions, by manipulating the Platts price assessment for U.S. Gulf Coast High-Sulfur Fuel Oil.

A former Glencore Ltd. senior fuel oil trader, Emilio Jose Heredia Collado, of Lafayette, California, pleaded guilty in March 2021 to one count of conspiracy to engage in commodities price manipulation in connection with his trading activity related to the Platts Los Angeles 380 CST Bunker Fuel price assessment. Heredia’s sentencing is scheduled for June 17, 2022.

Note: The complete press release from the U.S. Department of Justice is available here.

Related: Former oil trader pleads guilty to price manipulation in multiyear conspiracy

 

Photo credit: Pepi Stojanovski from Unsplash
Published: 26 May, 2022

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