Ex-Gunvor Employee Pleads Guilty to Foreign Bribery Scheme

An ex-Gunvor Group Ltd employee admitted paying more than $22 million in bribes to government officials in Ecuador to win business from state-owned oil company Petroecuador.

Raymond Kohut, 68, told a U.S. judge on Tuesday that he and his bosses conspired to pay the bribes from 2012 to 2020.

Gunvor, one of the five-largest independent oil traders, said Tuesday it is cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department’s probe. The company said it “terminated its relationship” with business-development agents involved in the case before learning of the investigation because of compliance issues.

Kohut, a Canadian citizen who worked out of the Bahamas, faces more than two decades in prison under U.S. sentencing guidelines. He no longer works for the firm.

“Gunvor has further taken steps to ban outright the use of agents for business development purposes,” the company said in a statement.

The case, part of a broad U.S. probe into bribes paid to South American officials, is the latest in a string of cases the U.S. has brought against those in the commodity trading industry, as authorities around the world step up scrutiny of the notoriously opaque business.

In December, Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil trading house, agreed to pay $160 million after it admitted paying bribes in Latin America and attempting to manipulate U.S. oil markets. In March, a former senior oil trader at Glencore Plc, the world’s largest commodity trader, pleaded guilty in California to manipulating the fuel-oil market in Los Angeles.

Read More: Oil Trader Gunvor Hires New Chiefs to Push Past Bribery Scandal

In the latest case, U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, outlined a years-long scheme involving Kohut and “others,” along with the energy company Kohut worked for. The government didn’t name Gunvor in court papers. A person familiar with the case identified the firm.

“The defendant and others are charged as being part of a bribery and money-laundering conspiracy to, among other things, pay more than $22 million in bribes to Ecuadorian government officials,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bini told the judge at a plea hearing held over video conference.

Kohut, who focused on business development, worked for Gunvor as an employee and independent contractor from 2012 to mid-2019. In court, he said he conspired with two consultants he didn’t name to help funnel bribes to Ecuadorian officials working with Petroecuador. His bosses were told the payments were “consulting fees.”

“I agreed to participate in the scheme with consultants,” he said.

Adam Fels, Kohut’s lawyer, didn’t immediately return email and voice-mail messages after court.

Previously, Gunvor agreed to pay $95 million in 2019 to settle a Swiss investigation into bribes paid to officials in the Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast to win oil deals.

The case is U.S. v. Kohut, 21-cr-115, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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