After 17 months, the Mexican episode of the Vitol corruption scandal is coming to a close as the Dutch energy giant finally handed over the names of public officials who received bribes to the government of President López Obrador.
In September 2021, PEMEX suspended all commercial activity with Vitol, canceling three major contracts as the US department of Justice launched a corruption investigation into Vitol Americas, the Houston-based subsidiary of the Dutch firm. This would be the first chapter of an extensive corruption scandal that would span several states in North and South America, including Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico. Across the countries, the same pattern of underhanded dealings was observed in which Vitol would bribe prominent officials in exchange for exclusive contracts with the respective state oil companies.
President López Obrador celebrated that decency prevailed, lauding what he viewed as “the moral choice'” eventually made by Vitol, allowing the Mexican government to finally get to the bottom of the scandal. Insiders feel that the pressure put on the company by the current administration, particularly the threats that they would not be welcome to conduct business within Mexico, proved decisive. In the US for example, Vitol only reached an economic settlement to resolve the bribery charges. "It was too easy for Vitol. They reached an agreement to pay the US and then came to us offering to pay for damages. We accepted but we also wanted to know who received the bribes, to which they replied, 'We cannot tell you', so we refused the offer. But I have good news for you all: they have now given us the names," commented López Obrador.
It remains unclear how much Vitol will repay the Mexican state in damages, although the fee of US$160 million agreed on in New York is perhaps an indicator. Nevertheless, López Obrador made clear that repairing the reputation of PEMEX in the wake of the corruption scandal is just as important as financial reparations if the public are to once again trust in their state institutions. "It is so important that these issues are not hidden away from the public, especially when dealing with fraud at the heart of PEMEX. Transparency is a golden rule of democracy,” noted the president.