President López Obrador announced his expectation that the identity of the PEMEX officials who received bribes from energy trader Vitol will soon be revealed. The Dutch energy giant was involved in a bribery scandal that spanned several Latin American states, including Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico. The president warned that until the names of the corrupt officials were made public, Vitol would not be welcome to resume operations in Mexico.
"Apparently, we are already finding out who received those bribes, or so I gather from the information released about the case (...) That company, if this case is not cleared up, is not going to have any prospects of working in Mexico. We do not want to work with corrupt foreign companies,” said López Obrador.
At the end of 2020, the American subsidiary of the Dutch energy giant, Vitol Americas, admitted publicly in a New York courtroom that they had employed bribes and other schemes between 2015 and 2020 to secure contracts from the various state-owned oil companies in Latin America. Following the admission, Vitol’s Houston-based subsidiary agreed to pay US$164 million dollars in damages to put an end to the investigations by the US justice system. The agreement, however, did not include names or other transaction details.
Following the ruling, PEMEX decided to suspend all commercial relations with Vitol, terminating three contracts and initiating negotiations to reach a settlement agreement. The NOC ruled out a solely financial settlement, however, as CEO Octavio Romero instead requested the names of the officials who took bribes. "Vitol requested an agreement offering to pay out US$22 million dollars and carry out works at the Ethane Terminal in Pajaritos. However, PEMEX maintained its position that a proposal of indemnification for the damage caused is not enough," Romero stated. Nevertheless, Vitol refused to comply, claiming it does not have the information.
Doubling down this week when questioned about the case, López Obrador commented that although Vitol had offered to pay damages for the bribes, business could not return to normal, until the individuals involved in corruption at PEMEX were revealed: "The instruction I gave was that we should not accept anything until we knew who had received the bribes. Until then, we do not want to have any relationship with that company. Suspicion over who received the bribes still lingers and we do not want to be accused of a cover-up.”
Recently, the investigation file has expanded as the NOC provided evidence to the Public Prosecutor’s office from March 2021 to May 2022 to pursue proceedings against Vitol. Moreover, in August 2021, the head of Mexico's tax authority informed that the government was investigating Vitol for “irregularities” in their documentation regarding oil products entering the country, with the possibility of tax evasion charges resulting. Vitol denied any wrongdoing, claiming the allegations were related to imports classified by a partner company.
Several requests for details concerning Vitol’s Mexican contracts were made under transparency laws but all were refused. The extent of Vitol’s operations in the country is unknown, except that their contracts were for butane, naphtha and propane imports. However, a Reuters report estimated that the contracts were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As of 2020, Mexico was the 4th largest importer of refined crude oil, with a total cost of US$18.1 billion.
In July 2021, Reuters reported that PEMEX's trading arm PMI had also suspended further business with Trafigura, the world's second-largest crude oil trader after Vitol, while investigations into the practices of major energy traders in the region continued. As part of the fallout, all 5 permits the Singapore-based company held were revoked. With the exclusion of the big two, market experts were left to ponder how PEMEX would be able to source some of its refined products. However, on May 1st, SENER published a document updating its contracts, which included four provisional import permits granted to Trafigura, for the import of 399.4Mboe of light oil, 199.38Mboe of kerosine, 399.4Mboe of diesel and 399.4Mboe of gasoline.