66 Gun­vor, the Krem­lin, oil and cor­rup­tion

Swiss courts are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a se­ries of opaque busi­ness deals link­ing mem­bers of the Braz­zav­ille elite and a ma­jor com­modi­ties trader

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - Charles Boues­sel du Bourg

The gov­ern­ment in Braz­zav­ille is in the midst of a ma­jor cor­rup­tion scan­dal re­lat­ing to its re­la­tion­ship to Geneva-based com­modi­ties trader Gun­vor af­ter a Swiss non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO) un­con­vered ev­i­dence of cor­rup­tion. “Be­tween Septem­ber 2010 and June 2012, Gun­vor se­cured [two] un­ten­dered con­tracts to ex­port 22 tanker­loads of crude val­ued at about $2.2bn,” says the NGO Public Eye as part of its find­ings fol­low­ing a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the world’s fourth-largest in­de­pen­dent oil trader and its op­er­a­tions in the oil-rich Repub­lic of Congo. In ex­change for th­ese con­tracts, Gun­vor signed six pre-fi­nanc­ing agree­ments with the Con­golese state-owned oil com­pany, the So­ciété Na­tionale des Pétroles Con­go­lais (SNPC), each worth €125m ($149m). The deals in­volve some of the most pow­er­ful of­fi­cials in Congo. Public Eye’s re­port en­ti­tled ‘Gun­vor in Congo: Oil, Cash Pay­ments and Em­bez­zle­ment’ ex­poses the main play­ers at the cen­tre of the bil­lion-dol­lar bribery and cor­rup­tion scheme. Gun­vor of­fered other sweet­en­ers as part of its Con­golese act ivies. Gun­vor co-founder Gen­nady Tim­chenko has close ties to Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, and the firm as­sured Congo it would sign an eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment with Rus­sia – one was duly signed on 31 Au­gust 2011 – and get po­lit­i­cal sup­port from the Krem­lin on the in­ter­na­tional scene. The Genev­abased com­pany also paid sub­stan­tial sums, as much as $31.9m, to in­ter­me­di­aries sus­pected of cor­rupt­ing Con­golese of­fi­cials. Ini­tially in­tended for the devel­op­ment of new oil in­fras­truc­ture, the funds from the pre-fi­nanc­ing deals fi­nanced public pro­cure­ment con­tracts “val­ued at more than $1bn, whose award led to var­i­ous sus­pi­cious pay­ments,” claims the Zurich-based NGO in the 68-page re­port pub­lished in Septem­ber. The re­port fur­ther ex­plains that a Brazil­ian con­struc­tion com­pany known as Asper­bras, which was the main ben­e­fi­ciary of the gov­ern­ment con­tracts, “billed its ser­vices to the Con­golese state at prices up to 10 times higher than charged in other coun­tries for sim­i­lar ser­vices”. Asper­bras also paid Gun­vor com­mis­sions for help in win­ning the con­tracts.

PRES­I­DENT’S SON

Ac­cord­ing to the NGO, De­nis Chris­tel Sas­sou Nguesso – the son of Pres­i­dent De­nis Sas­sou Nguesso and the of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for all the SNPC’S crude oil sales – is at the heart of the deals with Gun­vor. Four le­gal pro­ceed­ings in Switzer­land have al­ready been opened to in­ves­ti­gate any po­ten­tial crimes linked to those trans­ac­tions. In video footage ob­tained by Public Eye and dat­ing back to 2014, some­one pre­sented as a per­son close to De­nis Chris­tel is seen com­plain­ing to a Gun­vor di­rec­tor that the pres­i­dent’s son is not re­ceiv­ing enough money for the ex­er­cise of his in­flu­ence. In the same video, a Gun­vor rep­re­sen­ta­tive ex­plains that the Swiss oil trader is will­ing to pay com­mis­sions via a Rus­sian com­pany, which will be a dis­creet way of avoid­ing any “trou­ble”. Con­tacted by Public Eye, the pres­i­dent’s son, who signed the agree­ment with Gun­vor, said that “Congo is a sov­er­eign state that has the le­gal stand­ing to choose who it does busi­ness with, as all coun­tries do, all of which is done in a thor­oughly trans­par­ent and le­gal man­ner.” For its part, Gun­vor said it could not com­ment when it was con­tacted by the French on­line in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal Me­di­a­part, which co-pro­duced the re­port. The rea­son given was that le­gal pro­ceed­ings are still on­go­ing. The Swiss trader has since ended all busi­ness deal­ings in Congo.

Gun­vor’s sweet­en­ers for Congo in­cluded in­flu­ence with Pres­i­dent Putin

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