U.S. Vitol loses Pemex and Petroecuador as clients over bribery scandal

Vitol Mexico

The U.S unit of Vitol, one of the largest independent oil traders, has lost Mexican state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and Ecuador’s Petroecuador, after the Department of Justice unveiled a bribery scandal.

Earlier this week, on December 3, the Department of Justice announced U.S. Vitol had agreed to pay over $135 million to resolve the case, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded the company paid bribes to officials in Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.

The company also agreed to pay $12.7 million to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and other $16 million, over its responsibility in obtaining juicy contracts and making illicit profits.

“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.

After the news broke, the commercial division of Pemex, PMI Comercio Internacional suspended temporarily its trading with the U.S. division of the swiss company. According to a letter to which Reuters had access, PMI said: “we have taken the decision to suspend temporarily commercial relations with Vitol’s companies.”

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Bribes from Vitol happened as early as July 2020

According to Mexican news media, the order came from Ulises Hernandez, chief of PMI Comercio Internacional. In Mexico the news hit hard on Pemex and public’s opinion; as the Odebrecht scandal is still fresh, as the current administration has taken efforts to bring the people involved to justice.

The DOJ said some of the bribes happened as early as 2020, during Lopez Obrador’s term. “Between 2015 and July 2020, Vitol agreed to offer and pay more than $2 million in bribes to officials in Ecuador and Mexico.”

On his daily morning conference, Mexican president said he would investigate the accusations and bring the responsible ones to justice. Shortly after, Ecuador’s state oil company Petroecuador also canceled its commercial relations with Vitol.  

According to Reuters, neither Pemex or Vitol responded a request for comment; it is not clear if all commercial relations were banned or just the fuel ones. Between Pemex and Vitol there is a commercial relationship that includes natural gas, liquified natural gas, oil and gasoline.

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