Glencore Resolution: Part III – The Commodity Price Manipulation Case | Thomas Fox – Compliance Evangelist

Last week, the Attorney General and a host of other Department of Justice (DOJ) officials announced the settlement of a massive Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and market manipulation case against Glencore plc (Glencore). Over the next several blog posts, I will be reviewing the matter and mining it for lessons learned for the compliance community. Today, in Part III, we take a detour into the Commodity Price Manipulation Case and see how this matter should be studied by compliance professional.

In this case separate and apart from the FCPA enforcement action, Glencore admitted to a muti-year scheme to manipulate fuel oil prices at two of the busiest commercial shipping ports in the United States. Under the terms of the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) resolution, the company will pay a criminal fine of $341,221,682 and criminal forfeiture of $144,417,203. Under the terms of the Plea Agreement, the DOJ will credit over $242 million in payments that the company makes to the CFTC.

According to the CFTC Press Release, Glencore’s manipulative and fraudulent conduct—including conduct relating to foreign corruption—defrauded its counterparties, harmed other market participants, and undermined the integrity of the US and global physical and derivatives oil markets. Platts physical oil benchmarks, including those that were the subject of Glencore’s manipulative conduct, serve as price benchmarks for end-users and market participants, and are incorporated as reference prices for the settlement of numerous derivatives. (For a copy of the CFTC Order, see link in the CFTC Press Release.)

According to the CFTC Order, Glencore had a global commodity trading business, which included trading in fuel oil. Between approximately January 2011 and August 2019, Glencore conspired to manipulate two benchmark price assessments published by S&P Global Platts (Platts) for fuel oil products, specifically intermediate fuel oil 380 CST at the Port of Los Angeles (Los Angeles Fuel) and RMG 380 fuel oil at the Port of Houston (US Gulf Coast Fuel Oil). The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest shipping port in the US by container volume. The Port of Houston is the largest US port on the Gulf Coast and the busiest port in the US by foreign waterborne tonnage.

As part of the conspiracy, Glencore employees sought to unlawfully enrich themselves and the company, by increasing profits and reducing costs on contracts to buy and sell physical fuel oil, as well as certain derivative positions the company held. The price terms of the physical contracts and derivative positions were set by reference to daily benchmark price assessments published by Platts—either Los Angeles Fuel or US Gulf Coast Fuel Oil—on a certain day or days plus or minus a fixed premium. On these pricing days, Glencore employees submitted orders to buy and sell (bids and offers) to Platts during the daily trading “window” for the Platts price assessments with the intent to artificially push the price assessment up or down.

In an example from the CFTC Order, if Glencore had a contract to buy fuel oil, employees submitted offers during the Platts “window” for the express purpose of pushing down the price assessment and hence the price of the fuel oil that Glencore purchased. The bids and offers were not submitted to Platts for any legitimate economic reason by company employees, but rather for the purpose of artificially affecting the relevant Platts price assessment so that the benchmark price, and hence the price of fuel oil that the company bought from, and sold to, another party, did not reflect legitimate forces of supply and demand.

Between approximately September 2012 and August 2016, Glencore Ltd employees conspired to manipulate the price of fuel oil bought from, and sold to, a corrupt counterparty (Company A) through private, bilateral contracts, by manipulating the Platts price assessment for Los Angeles Fuel. Between approximately January 2014 and February 2016, Glencore engaged in a “joint venture” with Company A, which involved buying fuel oil from Company A at prices artificially depressed by Glencore’s manipulation of the Platts Los Angeles Fuel benchmark. Finally, between approximately January 2011 and August 2019, company employees conspired to manipulate the price of fuel oil bought and sold through private, bilateral contracts, as well as derivative positions, by manipulating the Platts price assessment for US Gulf Coast Fuel Oil.

The CFTC also noted Glencore was involved in market manipulation through illegally obtaining confidential information by improperly obtained nonpublic information from employees and agents of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including Pemex in Mexico. This information was material to Glencore’s business and trading. Pemex agents who had access to confidential information and owed a duty to Pemex under Mexican law and Pemex internal policies to keep the information confidential—disclosed nonpublic information, “including information material to Glencore’s transactions with the SOE or to related physical and derivatives trading, to Glencore. Glencore traders in knowing possession of the confidential information then entered into related physical transactions and derivatives transactions.”

Finally, as we noted in yesterday’s recitation of the FCPA allegations, Glencore made corrupt payments to employees and agents working at SOEs in Brazil, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Venezuela. Glencore or its affiliates made the corrupt payments in exchange for improper preferential treatment and access to trades with the SOEs. Glencore’s conduct was designed to increase Glencore’s profits from certain physical and derivatives trading in oil markets around the world, including US physical and derivatives markets. Glencore also engaged in this corrupt conduct in connection with derivatives such as swaps and futures contracts subject to the rules of Commission-registered entities.

Tomorrow we will consider the settlement.

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