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Trafigura pays $55mn US fine in case alleging market abuse

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Trafigura has agreed to pay a $55mn fine in a settlement with US regulators over charges of fraud and manipulation in the latest blow to the trading house.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission charged the company with offences alleged to have taken place between 2014 and 2020 including trading petrol while in possession of non-public information, manipulating a fuel oil benchmark and impeding whistleblower communications.

“This enforcement action is yet another example of the CFTC’s commitment to ensuring the derivatives markets remain free from trading abuses that undermine their integrity,” said Ian McGinley, the regulator’s director of enforcement.

Trafigura said it neither admitted nor denied the allegations but added that since the period in question it had “voluntarily undertaken significant steps to enhance its compliance programme”.

The CFTC fine comes amid several investigations into the company, one of the world’s biggest trading houses, which made profits of $1.5bn in the six months to the end of March. Headquartered in Singapore, Trafigura has major operations in Geneva and Houston.

Trafigura in March pleaded guilty to US charges of bribery in Brazil and agreed to pay $127mn in fines and forfeited profits.

In that case — tied to Brazil’s vast Lava Jato, or Car Wash, political corruption saga — prosecutors said the company had made bribes to retain business with state-owned oil group Petrobras, earning $61mn from illicitly obtained business.

Separately, Trafigura and its former chief operating office Mike Wainwright are due to go on trial in Switzerland on charges of bribing officials in Angola.

Among the CFTC charges against the company in the latest case are that it “improperly obtained non-public information material to the gasoline market” from an employee at a Mexican trading entity and carried out transactions while in possession of this confidential information.

Trafigura is also alleged to have manipulated the benchmark price of a type of fuel oil in 2017 in order to benefit its futures and swaps positions.

The CFTC also accused the company of requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements that did not include a carve out for communications with law enforcement, which the agency said impeded communications with authorities over potential violations.

Monday’s settlement marks the first time the CFTC charged a company for interfering with whistleblower communications.

“The CFTC will not tolerate attempts to silence potential witnesses,” said Brian Young, director of the regulator’s whistleblower office.

Trafigura said it agreed to modify NDA provisions in its employment contracts to make clear they did not inhibit communications with authorities about illegal activity.

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