Case studies

Gunvor SA

The Geneva-based independent commodities trading house has agreed to pay more than $660mn to resolve corruption investigations by Swiss and US authorities. Gunvor engaged two teams of FRA experts to test and evaluate its compliance program, and to support the fine calculation as part of negotiations with the DOJ.

In March 2024, Gunvor SA pleaded guilty to violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by bribing Ecuadorean government officials to secure deals with state-owned oil company Petroecuador between 2012 and 2020. The company agreed to pay more than $660 million to resolve the investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) regarding Gunvor’s misconduct which involved a complex scheme whereby bribes were paid via shell companies and intermediaries in different locations over several years (read more in the Financial Times). See DOJ press release, 1 Mar 2024.

Key takeaways

1. Engaging credible experts to stand before prosecutors

The penalty calculation required specialist forensic accounting experience and subject matter experts to determine the profits tainted by bribery. Gunvor’s external US legal counsel engaged FRA to perform the profit negotiation.

Drawing on decades of experience navigating companies and counsel through anticorruption regulatory enforcement, our expert team assessed complex calculations and financial arguments, at the same time anticipating how different authorities work together and the approaches that withstand scrutiny. FRA experts presented to the DOJ and their forensic experts on the magnitude of profits related to the actions under investigation, impacting the eventual settlement quantum.  

The ability to understand how different authorities collaborate is an FRA niche – both in penalty calculation and compliance remediation. FRA’s prior experience with headline matters gives us credibility with the prosecutors or regulators. Recent FRA cases to hit the international news include ABB’s settlement with US and South African authorities, Entain’s settlement with UK Crown Prosecution Service, and Seatrium’s settlement with Brazilian authorities.

2. Investing in proactive compliance helped avoid the appointment of a monitor

Gunvor invested heavily in several actions to evaluate and enhance its compliance program ahead of the settlement. The work Gunvor has undertaken has transformed the company from a system that the Swiss OAG described as “manifestly insufficient”, to what Gunvor is now proud to consider an “industry-leading compliance program” (see Gunvor press release). The DOJ recognized Gunvor’s effort and did not impose an independent compliance monitor and will instead allow the Company to self-report on its progress in continuing remediation efforts.

Gunvor retained a team of FRA experts, comprised of US and Swiss colleagues. They performed an extensive evaluation of the Company's tone at the top through a series of in-depth interviews, reviewed compliance policies and procedures, and tested key controls including third party management and disbursements. FRA also supported the Company in evaluating technology solutions to optimize the data capture, archiving and surveillance of off channel communications.  

Read more about the pressure on commodities firms to invest proactively in their compliance programs here.  

Contact the FRA experts involved to learn more:

Penalty calculation: Toby Duthie, Rob Mason, Weng Yee Ng  
Compliance Remediation: Jenna Voss, Gerben Schreurs  

Law firms/lawyers involved: Mark Racanelli (Partner, O’Melveny & Myers, New York); Benjamin Borsodi and Charles Goumaz (Partners, Schellenberg Wittmer, Geneva).

As mentioned in Global Investigations Review.  

Related contacts
Toby Duthie
Founding Partner
Rob Mason
Weng Yee Ng
Jenna Voss
New York
Gerben Schreurs
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