African governments silent after Glencore pleads guilty to grand corruption

For crimes that mostly happened in Africa, Glencore will pay the United States, Great Britain, Brazil and possibly Sweden, $1.1 billion. 

It’s a fine the company can easily afford, given that it expects to make a record $3.2 billion in the first half of 2022 alone. 

Those most affected – Africans – have little hope for reparations, or for consequences for their own officials who were complicit, even if some regulators are starting to investigate the corrupt practices.

Glencore buys and sells commodities, like oil. It has specialised in doing this with any country, regardless of its politics, and is enormously profitable as a result.

Before a US court in late May and a British court in late June, Glencore pleaded guilty to bribery of over $100-million in the DRC, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and South Sudan. It also pleaded guilty on charges of market manipulation in the US and additional bribery offences in Brazil and Venezuela.

In the month since the initial bombshell plea, most African governments whose officials were pointed at are silent. In Cameroon and South Africa though, investigations have started.

The truth started to emerge when a former Glencore senior trader in charge of West Africa, Anthony Stimler, turned into a witness for the prosecution in the US. He threw light on a bribery scheme that allowed the company to illicitly make a profit of $124-million by getting improper advantages in access to Nigeria’s crude oil. 

The company is one of the world’s biggest marketers of crude oil. Stimler said Glencore traders often pulled the bribery off by making unofficial “advance payments” on the oil cargoes it bought. 

One of those “advances” was a $300 000 contribution to the re-election campaign of a Nigerian official, earlier reported to be former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke. Nigeria dropped Glencore from its list of oil trading partners in May 2021 and in absentia charged Alison-Madueke, who now lives abroad.

But the US case implicates many other officials, including those at the Pipelines Products Marketing Company who once asked for $90 000 for “newspapers” – one of many code words the conspirators used for bribes. 

Last week The Continent contacted the country’s anti-graft body to ask if there would be investigations into others pointed to in the case. There was no response.

In the DRC, the company owns two copper and cobalt mines: Katanga and Mutanda. In its guilty plea, Glencore admitted to making payments of $27.5-million that its officials knew would in part be used to bribe authorities. In one example, $500 000 was paid to a judge to make a $16-million lawsuit against Glencore go away.

DRC officials have said that they want some of the $1.1 billion fine by the US court to go to their country, for the damage this corrupt conduct did to it. But they have made no indication that they will independently investigate the crimes. One example of the damage is DRC’s 2009 loss of $445-million when notorious Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler negotiated for Glencore to get the right of entry into the Katanga mine business for $140-million, even though the price had earlier been officially set at $585-million.

In Cameroon, Glencore admitted to paying nearly $10.9-million in bribes to officials in both the national oil company, SNH (Societe Nationale des Hydrocarbures) and the national refinery company, SONARA (Societe Nationale de Raffinage). The company holds a stake in Cameroon’s Bolongo oil block and is a major buyer of the country’s crude oil.

This week, the country’s anti-corruption unit told a local lawyer who petitioned it weeks ago, that it had opened an investigation.

Glencore officials admitted that between 2007 and 2010 they paid bribes of $4-million in Côte d’Ivoire, where it buys crude oil. It made over $30-million in profits on the deals enabled by that corruption. The bribes in Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan were also for the company to get preferrial access to those countries’ crude oil. Officials in all three countries have shown no indication that they will take any action against Glencore or investigate who received the bribes on their end.

In South Africa, where the company runs 12 mines and three coal energy plants, the state has also said it will launch an investigation.

Meanwhile in Uganda, Glencore is still in the running to take over the country’s largest copper mine in Kilembe. Bwesigye Don Binyina, the Executive Director of the thinktank Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy, compared inviting Glencore to participate in Uganda’s mineral sector to “mixing bleach and ammonia”, given that the country has “consistently fallen short of the principles of good governance” and Glencore is “a self-confessed bribery agent.”

Irene Batebe, the top accounting officer at the country’s energy and mineral development ministry dismissed such concerns, saying: “As part of the selection process, due diligence will be done on the companies and those found to be non- compliant based on a set criteria will be eliminated.”

For its part, Glencore says it has a new CEO and has gone through a process of reformation. It declined to respond to specific questions from The Continent

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy at mg.co.za/thecontinent/

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Lydia Namubiru
Lydia Namubiru, a Ugandan journalist, writes about public policy and the budding technology ecosystem in the East African region. She also teaches data journalism at The African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala. She holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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