Glencore slumps on US corruption probe


LONDON • Glencore plc tumbled the most in two years as its African troubles escalated dramatically after US authorities demanded documents relating to possible corruption and money laundering.

The world’s biggest commodity trader said yesterday that it’s been subpoenaed by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to hand over documents related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and US money-laundering statutes. The documents relate to the company’s business in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela from 2007 to the present.

The shares plunged as much as 13%, knocking more than £5.5 billion (RM29.15 billion) off Glencore’s market value, about half the US$14.8 billion (RM59.2 billion) of profit the company made last year.

It’s been a tumultuous year for Glencore, mostly due to challenges linked to its business in the Congo, where it operates giant copper and cobalt mines. The Swiss trader and miner is already facing the possibility of a bribery investigation by UK prosecutors over its work with Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire and close friend of Congo President Joseph Kabila, people familiar with the situation said in May.

Glencore said it’s reviewing the subpoena and will provide further information as appropriate. The shares dropped to the lowest in almost a year and were down 12% by 10:29am in London yesterday.

The DoJ usually issues subpoenas when it is investigating a company. In December, a Swiss court ordered companies controlled by Gertler to hand over bank documents to US Federal prosecutors.

“Given the flow of negative news we’ve had through the course of this year, the knee-jerk reaction is worse than it otherwise might have been,” Hunter Hillcoat, an analyst at Investec Securities Ltd, said by phone. “The DoJ fines can be big, but to wipe out 10% of the market cap would be bigger than any fine I can recall.”

The biggest US penalty for foreign corruption was a US$965 million payment imposed on Sweden’s telecoms company Telia Company AB after it accepted that it paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to a government official in Uzbekistan.

While Glencore didn’t specify exactly what the DoJ is investigating, it has faced legal challenges in DRC, Venezuela and Nigeria that might suggest where the US authorities are focusing their probe.

The company’s relationship with Gertler, who’s under US sanctions over allegedly corrupt deals in Congo, has long been a cause for concern. In Venezuela, Glencore is among oil traders accused of paying bribes to get the inside track on oil deals, according to a lawsuit filed by a trust for Petroleos de Venezuela SA earlier this year. In 2015 a former representative of Glencore alleged that the company failed to pay a fee for helping to free 15 Russian sailors detained on suspicion of smuggling guns.

The company’s problems had seemed to ease last month as it headed off two of its biggest challenges in Congo. Faced with the risk of losing control of its mines, Glencore bowed to the demands from two entities with close government ties — the state-run mining company Gecamines and Gertler.