Vitol Inc. agrees to pay over $135 million to resolve bribery case in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico

Washington, December 3rd, 2020– The U.S. Department of Justice announced the resolution of an investigation of violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act(FCPA), coordinated with the Brazilian Ministerio Publico Federal bribery investigation into Vitol Inc. (Vitol), the U.S. affiliate of the Vitol group of companies. Vitol has agreed to pay a combined $135 million related to the company’s schemes to bribe officials in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits individuals and businesses from engaging in corrupt activities abroad in order to obtain or retain business. The U.S. investigation was conducted by the FBI’s International Corruption Unit in New York.

According to the company’s admissions and court documents, between 2005 and 2014, Vitol and its co-conspirators paid bribes of more than $8 million to at least four officials at Brazil’s state-owned and controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. – Petrobras (Petrobras). Vitol paid these bribes in exchange for receiving confidential Petrobras pricing and competitor information. Vitol concealed the scheme through the use of intermediaries and a fictitious company that facilitated the payments to offshore accounts and, ultimately, to the Petrobras officials.

Vitol also admitted that from 2011 to 2014, it bribed at least five other Petrobras officials in exchange for receiving confidential pricing information that Vitol used to win fuel oil contracts with Petrobras. During that scheme, a consultant acting on behalf of Vitol engaged in back-channel negotiations with a Houston-based Petrobras official. The parties would then hold staged negotiations, ultimately settling on the pre-arranged price that allowed for bribes to be paid from Vitol to the Petrobras officials. Several of the co-conspirators communicated using alias email accounts and code names.

Vitol also admitted to a second conspiracy to bribe officials in Ecuador and Mexico in order to obtain and retain business in connection with the purchase and sale of oil products. Between 2015 and July 2020, Vitol agreed to offer and pay more than $2 million in bribes to officials in Ecuador and Mexico.

$45 million—approximately one third of the total criminal penalty—will be credited against the amount that Vitol will pay to resolve an investigation by the Brazilian Ministério Público Federal for conduct related to the company’s bribery scheme in Brazil.

In related matters, the department recently unsealed charges against a Houston-based former Petrobras official who received bribes in association with the scheme, and who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in February 2019. In addition, the department recently unsealed charges against one of the intermediaries involved in the Brazil scheme, who pleaded guilty in September 2017 to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with a related bribery scheme. Both individuals are awaiting sentencing.

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