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How I bribed Nigerian officials – corrupt oil trader tells New York court

When Anthony Stimler left Glencore Plc in August 2019, he had two big secrets: For a dozen years, he’d paid millions in bribes to Nigerian government officials and other African officials and intermediaries. And he was now helping a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the company and numerous former colleagues.

According to an explosive report Tuesday by Bloomberg, before getting caught, Stimler spent years in the game, beginning as early as 2007. And while it sounds like a hard-core business, he offers a mild-mannered profile.

Affable and polite, he’s known in his London Jewish community by the Yiddish nickname “Hershy” and served on the board of Camp Simcha, which helps sick children and taking a two-year break in the middle of his tenure to care for his own child, who suffered from leukaemia (and has now recovered.)

His confession in July to foreign bribery and money laundering charges, the first-ever by a Glencore trader, makes clear that he knew just what he’d been doing — and that he didn’t act alone. A lawyer for Stimler declined to comment for this article, as did Glencore. Stimler is out on bail in the U.K. and awaiting sentencing at a later date.

“When I made requests for payments to intermediaries, I was aware that other Glencore traders who worked with me were doing the same thing by directing our intermediaries to make bribe payments to government officials,” Stimler told a federal judge in New York, according to a transcript of his guilty plea.

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“I intended that a proportion of the payment to intermediaries operating in Nigeria were to be passed on to Nigerian state-owned oil company officials. The purpose of the payment was to influence those officials’ decisions regarding the Nigerian government’s allocations of crude oil cargo.

“Your honour, I knew what I was doing was wrong and unlawful,” he continued. “I’m extremely remorseful for my conduct.”

It was conducted that was, nonetheless, handsomely rewarded. One of the primary trading houses that stepped up to buy those cargoes, according to prosecutors: Glencore.

Over a two-decade career that began in 1998, Stimler, now 49, rose through the ranks of the storied Swiss trading house, becoming head of its West African oil trading desk. He presided over a robust expansion of its crude flows and a nearly doubling of his desk’s annual profits to nearly $200 million in 2017, according to people familiar with internal data.

Bloomberg reports that in that same year, 2017, prosecutors from the US Justice Department’s kleptocracy team filed a case in Houston to seize nearly $145 million worth of assets — including an $80 million, 215-foot yacht called the Galactica Star, a $50 million Billionaire’s Row apartment in New York and homes in California — that it said were purchased for the benefit of Nigeria’s oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, with embezzled funds.

US prosecutors say that over the course of 2013 and 2014, Glencore bought 15 cargoes of top Nigerian crude totalling 7 million barrels from the men, paying more than $800 million. Of that, they contend, roughly a third — $272 million — was diverted into an account at a Nigerian bank used for the purchases for Madueke.

While Stimler began bribing in 2007, often using coded language in emails, the payments appear to have accelerated during Madueke’s time in office, according to the court documents. Stimler agreed in late 2013 to pay more than triple the usual fees to an intermediary company that would be passed on as bribes for favourable grades and loading dates of Nigerian oil, his guilty plea says. Three months later, he and a colleague made another $500,000 payment to be eligible for additional Nigerian cargoes. Stimler “requested and received approval” for a Glencore subsidiary to make the payment, prosecutors said, without specifying who granted it.

Later that fall, he received another request, saying Foreign Official 1 was seeking $300,000 per month from customers of Nigeria’s national oil company, in connection with an upcoming election. Stimler authorized the payment, according to prosecutors.

Maduke left office in 2015 and has been living in London. She has been charged with corruption by Nigerian authorities but has so far successfully evaded extradition, and she is under investigation by U.K. authorities as well. The yacht, the Galactica Star, has since been auctioned off. Its new owner is a shell company called Paxford Ltd., and it has been renamed Illusion. It was last seen docked on the coast of Sardinia, according to Bloomberg ship-tracking data.

In May, Nigeria’s national oil company released its new list of trading partners for the coming year, coveted contracts to buy its oil and sell it refined gasoline. Glencore was not among them.

Corruption isn’t exactly unheard of in the extraction and trading of commodities, especially in the developing world. But details of Stimler’s cooperation deal, obtained from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and which haven’t been reported before, offer a rare opportunity to see how it works — the scale, scope and almost routine nature of such transactions.

One aspect is the role of intermediaries, often favoured by governments in the region. The so-called briefcase companies act as conduits for traders’ bribes to officials, taking a cut and directing state business back to the traders. Glencore was a dominant player in Nigeria, Chad, the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea, and says it no longer uses intermediaries as part of a revamped and cleaned-up operation.

“An issue that comes up with trader corruption is agents and intermediaries in the mix,” said Alexandra Gillies, an adviser at the Natural Resource Governance Institute, which seeks to stamp out corruption in emerging-market resources. “Clearly it’s the top modus operandi for how these schemes work.”

Glencore of Baar, Switzerland says it is now a changed company. The company is one of a handful of firms that dominate global trading of oil, fuel, metals, minerals and food, middlemen who buy from producers and sell to refiners who turn the goods into finished products. It traces its roots to a company co-founded in 1974 by Marc Rich, a legendary trader and financier who fled the U.S. in 1983 to evade prosecution for trading with Iran during the American hostage crisis. It had $142 billion in 2020 revenue

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