Former Gunvor employee pleads guilty to Ecuadorian corruption scheme

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A former employee of European energy trader Gunvor Group Ltd. pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme involving the Ecuadorian state oil company.

Raymond Kohut, 68, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a single count of money laundering in a plea hearing held virtually before a federal judge in Brooklyn.

Mr Kohut said in a statement read to the judge that he had worked with two of his Gunvor supervisors and two independent consultants to channel millions of dollars in bribes to Ecuadorian officials in order to win business with Petroecuador. Prosecutors separately said the scheme involved paying more than $ 22 million in bribes.

A spokesperson for Gunvor said the company was cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation into the case. “Gunvor Group has learned of charges brought against a former company employee by the US Department of Justice relating to affairs with an intermediary agent and Petroecuador,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the company took steps to voluntarily end its relationship with the former agent before the government’s investigation began and has since banned the use of agents for development purposes. commercial.

A lawyer for Petroecuador declined to comment.

As part of his plea deal with prosecutors, Mr. Kohut, a Canadian citizen who resides primarily in Panama and the Bahamas, agreed to pay $ 2.2 million in forfeiture.

Gunvor is one of the leading commodities traders to be investigated by authorities in the United States and elsewhere for bribery, corruption and, at times, possible manipulation of the commodities markets. raw.

Last year, Switzerland-based Vitol agreed to pay $ 163 million to settle criminal and civil charges that its employees paid bribes to gain an advantage during oil offers in Brazil, in Mexico and Ecuador.

The scheme involving Mr Kohut stemmed from contracts between Petroecuador and two state-owned oil and gas companies located in Asia, according to court documents.

Asian state-owned companies have provided Petroecuador with oil-backed loans to be delivered over a period of several years. Gunvor, in turn, had agreements with Asian companies to market and sell the petroleum products delivered by Petroecuador, according to court documents.

Mr Kohut, who engaged in the corruption program on behalf of Gunvor from 2012 to August 2020, helped bribe several Petroecuador officials to secure favorable terms for Asian state-owned companies so that Gunvor could enter into related contracts with the two companies, the documents said.

Mr. Kohut has met with his co-conspirators in the United States to discuss the terms of the Petroecuador contracts. Consultants involved in the scheme also forwarded invoices to Mr Kohut and other Gunvor employees with transfer instructions listing the corresponding bank accounts located in the United States, according to court documents.

Write to Dylan Tokar at [email protected]

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Appeared in the print edition of April 7, 2021 under the title “Guilty plea entered into corruption program”.

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