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Vitol Inc. Agrees to Pay over $135 Million to Resolve Foreign Bribery Case

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<div>Vitol Inc. (Vitol), the U.S. affiliate of the Vitol group of companies, which together form one of the largest energy trading firms in the world, has agreed to pay a combined $135 million to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to resolve a parallel investigation in Brazil.</div>

Vitol Inc. (Vitol), the U.S. affiliate of the Vitol group of companies, which together form one of the largest energy trading firms in the world, has agreed to pay a combined $135 million to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to resolve a parallel investigation in Brazil. 

The resolution arises out of Vitol schemes to pay bribes to officials in Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico.  Vitol has also agreed to disgorge more than $12.7 million to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in a related matter and to pay the CFTC a penalty of $16 million related to trading activity not covered by the deferred prosecution agreement with the department. 

“Over a period of 15 years, Vitol paid millions of dollars in bribes to numerous public officials – in three separate countries – to obtain improper competitive advantages that resulted in significant illicit profits for the company,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “Today’s coordinated resolution with Brazil, along with our first coordinated FCPA resolution with the CFTC, underscores the department’s resolve to hold companies accountable for their crimes while, at the same time, avoiding unnecessarily duplicative penalties.”

“Vitol paid bribes to government officials in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico to win lucrative business contracts and obtain competitive advantages to which they were not fairly entitled,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme of the Eastern District of New York.  “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York will continue to hold accountable companies and individuals that attempt to defy U.S. law to the detriment of honest competitors.” 

“This resolution demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to investigate foreign corruption and hold accountable those who circumvent laws for financial gain at the expense of American consumers,” said Assistant Director in Charge Kristi K. Johnson of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “We’ll continue to work with our partners to root out corruption, whether it occurs domestically or abroad, to ensure trust on the international playing field.”

Vitol entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the department in connection with a criminal information filed today in the Eastern District of New York charging the company with two counts of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  The case is assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano. 

Pursuant to its agreement with the department, Vitol’s total criminal penalty is $135 million.  The department will credit $45 million – approximately one third of the total criminal penalty – 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.   

As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, Vitol Inc. and Vitol S.A., another company within the Vitol group of companies, have agreed to continue to cooperate with the department in any ongoing investigations and prosecutions relating to the conduct, including of individuals; to enhance their compliance programs; and to report to the department on the implementation of their compliance programs.

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, including “Batman,” “Tiger,” “Phil Collins,” “Dolphin,” “Popeye,” and “Beb.” 

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.   

In furtherance of this bribery scheme, Vitol and its co-conspirators entered into sham consulting agreements, set up shell companies, created fake invoices for purported consulting services and used alias email accounts to transfer funds to offshore companies involved in the conspiracy – all while knowing that the funds, at least in part, would be used to pay bribes to Ecuadorian and Mexican officials.

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 on Feb. 8, 2019, in the Eastern District of New York.  In addition, the department recently unsealed charges against one of the intermediaries involved in the Brazil scheme, who pleaded guilty on Sept. 22, 2017, to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with a related bribery scheme.  Both individuals are awaiting sentencing.  Further, on Sept. 22, 2020, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York returned an indictment against Javier Aguilar, a Vitol trader, for his alleged role in the Ecuador scheme.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI’s International Corruption Unit.  The government’s case is being handled by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.  Fraud Section Trial Attorneys Derek J. Ettinger, Jonathan P. Robell, and Clayton P. Solomon, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark E. Bini and Andrey Spektor are prosecuting the case.  The U.S. Marshals Service and Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance in the investigation.

The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters.  Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    In U.S GAO News
    At various stages throughout the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has withdrawn equipment from its stored, or prepositioned, stock sets around the world, as well as from its afloat stocks, thus depleting a large portion of its prepositioned stocks. The Army prepositions equipment at diverse strategic locations in order to field combat-ready forces in days rather than the weeks it would take if equipment had to be moved from the United States to the location of the conflict. The Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) program supports the National Military Strategy and is an important part of the Department of Defense's (DOD) overall strategic mobility framework. The APS program depends on prepositioned unit sets of equipment and sustainment stocks to enable troops to deploy rapidly and train with prepositioned equipment before beginning combat operations. As we testified in January 2007 and March 2006, however, sustained continuing operations have taken a toll on the condition and readiness of military equipment, and the Army faces a number of ongoing and long-term challenges that will affect both the timing and cost of equipment repair and replacement, particularly to its prepositioned stocks. Over the past several years, GAO and other audit agencies have reported on numerous long-standing problems facing DOD's and the Army's prepositioning programs, including a lack of centralized operational direction; unreliable reporting on the maintenance condition of equipment; equipment excesses at some prepositioned locations; and systemic problems with requirements determination and inventory management. In September 2005, we recommended that DOD develop a coordinated departmentwide plan and joint doctrine for the department's prepositioning programs. In February 2007, we reported that while the Army expected to finalize its implementation plan for prepositioning stocks by December 31, 2006, DOD would not complete its departmentwide strategy before mid-April 2007. We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Army to take steps to synchronize the Army's prepositioning strategy with the DOD-wide strategy, to ensure that future investments made for the Army's prepositioning program would align with the anticipated DOD-wide prepositioning strategy. In addition, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 required the department to establish a departmentwide prepositioning strategic policy by April 2007.Army officials stated that its worldwide APS equipment sets, including APS-3, would be reconstituted in synchronization with the Army's overall equipping priorities when properly funded and in accordance with the official Army worldwide APS reconstitution strategy known as Army Prepositioned Strategy 2015 (APS Strategy 2015). According to DOD officials, the Army's equipping priorities will be based on evolving conditions and operations such as the availability of equipment and duration of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. As of December 2007, the Army had not established its overall equipping priorities. Additionally, the Army's APS reconstitution strategy is not correlated with a DOD-wide APS strategy, because, according to DOD officials, a DOD-wide prepositioning strategy does not exist. DOD officials explained that the services are responsible for equipping strategies and that the Joint Staff, consistent with current policy, conducts assessments of the services' prepositioned programs to determine their relationship within the DOD-wide strategic context. DOD officials do not believe additional synchronization of strategies is required. According to DOD, the War Reserve Materiel Policy provides ample policy guidance on war reserve materiel requirements and war reserve materiel positioning while the allocation process is outlined in the Joint Strategic Capability Plan. DOD officials believe publication of the War Reserve Materiel Policy and Joint Strategic Capability Plan satisfies the congressionally mandated requirement contained in the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. Nonetheless, as we recommended in our September 2005 and February 2007 reports, a DOD-wide strategy would set direction and a shared foundation for the services' prepositioning programs. Synchronizing a DOD-wide strategy with the Army's prepositioning strategy would ensure that future investments made for the Army's prepositioning program would align with the anticipated DOD-wide strategy. Without a DOD-wide prepositioning strategy, DOD risks inconsistencies between the Army's and the other services' prepositioning strategies, which may result in duplication of efforts and resources. We continue to believe a DOD-wide strategy is needed in addition to broad strategic guidance.
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  • Texas Woman Indicted for Transporting Minor for Female Genital Mutilation
    In Crime News
    A Texas woman has been indicted for transporting a minor from the United States to a foreign country for the purpose of female genital mutilation (FGM).
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