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EXCLUSIVE JPMorgan faces oil bribery probe in Brazil

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Brazilian authorities are investigating whether or not JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) performed a task in an alleged bribery and cash laundering scheme that dated again to 2011 and concerned state-run oil firm Petrobras, in response to paperwork reviewed by Reuters and two regulation enforcement sources.

Thus far, police have targeted their consideration on purchases of roughly 300,000 barrels of Petrobras gas oil by JPMorgan in 2011 in response to the court docket paperwork and sources, who requested anonymity to debate an ongoing investigation.

The paperwork, which had been seen by Reuters, embrace e mail messages amongst alleged co-conspirators, witness testimony and financial institution data. The authorities are working to find out if the alleged bribery continued in subsequent years, the sources added.

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The court docket paperwork considered by Reuters embrace witness testimony from a former Petrobras gas dealer named Rodrigo Berkowitz. In his plea discount settlement with Brazilian authorities, he refers to 2 gas cargoes that had been offered to a JPMorgan unit.

The probe, which is in preliminary levels, is a part of a bigger investigation by Brazilian authorities who’ve been analyzing wrongdoing throughout the commodity buying and selling trade for years. As one of many world’s largest banks, JPMorgan would symbolize the most important goal but within the investigation.

The nation’s federal police are working to find out if JPMorgan secured shipments of Petrobras gas at artificially low costs by routing bribe funds to workers on Petrobras’ buying and selling desk although a community of middlemen, in response to the folks and paperwork that relate to the investigation.

Brazil’s federal police and JPMorgan declined to touch upon the investigation. The legal professional for Rodrigo Berkowitz didn’t reply to requests for remark. He has beforehand confirmed that his shopper is cooperating with U.S. and Brazilian authorities investigating the commodity buying and selling trade.

Petrobras, formally referred to as Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA), mentioned in an e mail it has “zero tolerance in relation to fraud and corruption.” The corporate added that it has aided Brazilian authorities extensively with varied corruption-related probes.

The world’s largest commodity merchants, together with Switzerland’s Vitol, the world’s prime impartial oil dealer, are additionally dealing with scrutiny globally after years of investigations into whether or not they provided bribes to win contracts in a number of nations in Latin America. Vitol admitted wrongdoing as a part of a 2020 settlement with U.S. and Brazilian authorities and has mentioned that’s happy the matter has been resolved.

No fees have been introduced within the JPMorgan probe, and it stays unclear whether or not any will probably be.

Components of the JPMorgan investigation had been outlined in beforehand unreported paperwork that Brazilian police submitted this 12 months to a federal choose overseeing the probe, together with financial institution data, e-mails and WhatsApp messages exchanged amongst alleged co-conspirators, which had been reviewed by Reuters. The paperwork additionally included inner Petrobras information and testimony from a former Petrobras gas dealer.

INCREASED SCRUTINY

Petrobras, the world’s seventh-largest oil producer, routinely buys and sells petroleum merchandise in offers meant to hunt one of the best worth potential for the agency. Nonetheless, U.S. and Brazilian authorities have alleged that some Petrobras merchants took bribes from counterparties for greater than a decade via 2018.

In return, these merchants allegedly bought gas at inflated costs or offered it at a reduction.

In December, Vitol agreed to pay $164 million and admit guilt to resolve allegations by U.S. and Brazilian authorities that it paid bribes in Brazil and different Latin American nations between 2005 and 2020.

In November, Brazilian prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit towards Trafigura, alleging the Geneva-based dealer and not less than two subsidiaries paid Petrobras workers greater than $1.5 million in bribes in 2012 and 2013.

Trafigura has constantly denied the allegations leveled by Brazilian authorities and has mentioned that outdoors counsel it employed “discovered no foundation to conclude that Trafigura’s present administration had been concerned in, or had data of, alleged improper funds to Petrobras.”

Reuters reported in latest months, citing regulation enforcement sources and Brazilian court docket paperwork, that U.S. and Brazilian authorities are additionally probing Connecticut-based buying and selling home Freepoint Commodities for its dealings in Brazil from roughly 2012 to 2018.

A Freepoint spokesperson wrote in an e mail on the time that the corporate “is strongly dedicated to following the legal guidelines in every single place we do enterprise.” The corporate declined additional remark.

Brazilian investigators haven’t but shared their findings relating to JPMorgan with U.S. authorities, the sources added, although they’re possible to take action if the probe advances.

Among the many issues Brazilian authorities are attempting to find out is the timeline of the alleged JPMorgan bribery operation.

JPMorgan largely exited bodily commodity buying and selling in 2014, promoting its operations to Swiss dealer Mercuria for $3.5 billion in an all-cash deal.

It’s not clear if the alleged bribery occurred as much as that date or if the alleged wrongdoing was restricted to offers executed in 2011.

Final 12 months, the financial institution agreed to paymore than $920 million and admit wrongdoing to settle U.S. market manipulation probes into its buying and selling of metals futures and Treasury securities.

In 2013, shortly earlier than the sale of its bodily commodities unit, the financial institution agreed to pay$410 million to settle allegations of energy market manipulation in California and the Midwest.

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Modifying by Brad Haynes and Edward Tobin

Gram Slattery

Rio de Janeiro-based correspondent specializing within the oil and fuel trade, in addition to white-collar crime and corruption. Latest tales have make clear felony wrongdoing by a few of the world’s largest commodity merchants and revealed how organized crime teams have infiltrated Brazil’s largest gas distributors. Beforehand posted in São Paulo and Santiago and has additionally reported extensively from Argentina and Bolivia. He was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard School.

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