Justice Department Indicts Vitol Oil Trader in International Bribery and Money Laundering Conspiracy for Corrupt Payments to Ecuadoran Officials

Michael Volkov
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The Volkov Law Group

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York returned an indictment against Javier Aguilar, an oil trader at Vitol, an energy and commodity trading company, for his role in a five-year international bribery and money laundering scheme carried out in Ecuador.

Between approximately 2015 and July 2020, Aguilar and others participated in a conspiracy to pay and conceal bribes to Ecuadoran government officials, including officials at Petroecuador, the state-owned oil and gas company, to secure a valuable, $300 million contract to purchase fuel oil for the benefit of Vitol. 

Aguilar was charged in two counts – conspiracy to violate the FCPA and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Aguilar has been the focus of a long-running FCPA and money laundering investigation.  The investigation was initially focused on trading activities involving Petrobras in Brazil.  Vitol is the world’s largest independent oil trader and is based in London.  Aside from Aguilar, other Vitol executives are under investigation.

In the initial complaint supporting an arrest warrant for Aguilar, the government affidavit references two cooperating witnesses who entered into written cooperation agreements and guilty pleas.  The complaint references recorded phone calls and meetings with Aguilar.

Aguilar is alleged to have made illegal payments of approximately $870,000 to Ecuadoran officials for their assistance in securing a $300 million fuel oil contract with Petroecuador.

Vitol is cooperating with the DOJ probe.

Aguilar was arrested on July 10, 2020 and released on $100,000 bond.

According to the charging documents, Aguilar used an intermediary in Curacao and shell companies to funnel bribes to two Ecuadoran consultants who in turn passed the bribes to two Petroecuador officials, including a senior manager and a member of the Ecuadoran ministry of Hydrocarbons. 

Starting in 2015, Aguilar, the two consultants and the two Ecuadoran government officials met and agreed to facilitate business opportunities in exchange for bribes.  Beginning in 2016, the conspirators agreed that the amount of corrupt payments would be 25 cents per barrel of fuel oil provided to Vitol pursuant to a Petroecuador contract.

To conceal the bribery scheme, Aguilar instructed one of the consultants to use the intermediary to hide the source of the payments made to the two consultants.  In December 2016, the intermediary and one of the consultants entered into a sham consulting agreement between the consulting company and one of the shell company’s controlled by the intermediary.  To receive the payments, the consultant generated a fake invoice corresponding to the number of barrels of fuel oil that Vitol received.

Vitol made payments to bank accounts in Curacao in the name of the shell companies, respectively, which were controlled by the intermediary.  After receiving such payments, the intermediary wired payments to a consulting company bank account in the Cayman Islands.  The consultants paid the bribes p[romised to the Ecuadoran officials accounts.

Between March 2017 and November 2018, the two consultants paid one of Ecuadoran officials approximately $270,000 for Vitol.  In addition, between May 2018 and March 2020, Aguilar and others caused Vitol to pay the two consultants $1.4 million of the $3.6 million owed pursuant to the contract.  The two consultants paid Ecuadoran official approximately $600,000 of the more than $1.5 million that the conspirators agreed to pay one of the Ecuadoran officials on behalf of Vitol.

Starting in 2019, some of Aguilar’s telephone discussions and meetings with the two consultants were recorded.  On February 6, 2020, Aguilar discussed with one of the consultants that Vitol owed money to the Ecuadoran officials.  Aguilar specifically stated: “It’s a commitment… I mean, I manage it. It will be done. I have to accelerate this, so there will be no more hindering of this.”  In a subsequent conversation Aguilar referred to the need to execute “fake contracts” to facilitate additional payments.

On March 5, 2020, Aguilar met with the two consultants in Houston, Texas.  The meeting was recorded.  The two consultants stated they need to be paid by the intermediary.  Aguilar indicated he was in contact with the intermediary as to payments to the two consultants and “four or five others.”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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