Developing Nation Energy Trader Convicted of Bribes

Men shaking hands while palming money between them
Updated Published

A federal jury in the U.S. has found a former trader for Vitol guilty of participating in a complex bribery and money laundering operation aimed at winning contracts in Latin America.

Javier Aguilar, who worked for the commodity trading company Vitol, was found guilty of paying off officials at Petroecuador and engaging in money laundering to facilitate bribes in both Ecuador and Mexico. Despite denying the allegations, Aguilar's defense argues he was framed by a past Vitol executive.

The trial revealed that between 2015 and 2020, Aguilar, along with others, engaged in corrupt practices to secure a lucrative $300 million contract for fuel oil from Ecuador. To circumvent Petroecuador's limitations on dealings with private entities, the contract was secured through a partnership with a Middle Eastern state-owned company, with bribed Ecuadorian officials ensuring the bid's success.

Additionally, Aguilar is accused of making $600,000 in bribes to two individuals at the Mexican state-owned energy company Pemex to win a substantial ethane gas supply contract.

Evidence presented in court highlighted the significant economic benefits of bribery within the sector of energy trading. Findings show Aguilar managed to arrange $1 million in bribes, which in turn facilitated a $500 million worth of business for Vitol. The court also noted that seven individuals involved in the bribery scheme consented to relinquish $63 million of their criminal proceeds, showcasing a significant return on their initial bribery investment.

Aguilar now faces the possibility of a 30-year prison term. Reports from Bloomberg indicate his bail has been set at $2 million, and he is required to be monitored by an ankle device pending his sentencing.

In a related settlement in 2020, Vitol agreed to a $160 million fine with the Department of Justice for its involvement. Similarly, Gunvor, a competing firm, has acknowledged it is under investigation for suspected corrupt practices in Ecuador.