Trafigura is using late founder as scapegoat on bribes, son says

Trafigura is using late founder as scapegoat on bribes, son says
The family of Trafigura Group’s late founder Claude Dauphin has accused the trading house of using him as a “scapegoat” in its US corruption case, in an unprecedented public rebuke.

Trafigura last month admitted that Dauphin had approved bribe payments in Brazil, as part of an agreement with the US Department of Justice in which the company also pleaded guilty to a foreign bribery scheme. Trafigura’s guilty plea capped off a series of investigations targeting widespread corruption at the world’s biggest commodity traders, with rivals Vitol Group, Glencore Plc and Gunvor Group Ltd. already having admitted wrongdoing in separate cases.

Guillaume Dauphin, the Trafigura founder’s son, told Bloomberg that the Dauphin family was not involved in the company’s discussions with the DOJ.

“Frankly speaking it does seem a bit fortunate to blame everything on the guy who is not there to answer,” he said.

The public schism between Trafigura’s current management and the Dauphin family, which has eschewed publicity in the decade since the founder’s death, shows how the issue of corruption continues to reverberate through the commodity trading world.

Trafigura’s plea agreement included a statement of facts, which was drafted by the DOJ and admitted by the company as “true and correct.” The document stated that an unnamed executive, who is identifiable as Claude Dauphin, approved commissions to an intermediary that were used to pay bribes. The DOJ made no allegations of wrongdoing against anyone among Trafigura’s current management.

Claude Dauphin, who led Trafigura from its foundation in 1993 until his death in 2015, became a totemic figure in the industry and was a mentor to several generations of Trafigura executives.

His son Guillaume, who said he was speaking on behalf of the family, accused Trafigura of using its late founder as a scapegoat to protect other individuals, who he did not identify.

“It would seem that Trafigura’s strategy is to make our father the sole scapegoat for all the legal issues facing the company, not so much to protect the company, but rather to protect others included in the legal cases,” he said.

Trafigura declined to comment.

Claude Dauphin’s family inherited a fortune from the value of his Trafigura shares, which the trading house paid out over a number of years following his death. Still, that inheritance has also made them the target of legal action: in 2020, Dauphin’s three children and his widow were named alongside several Trafigura executives in a civil case brought by Brazilian prosecutors over allegations of bribery.

Guillaume Dauphin declined to comment on that case. Trafigura has denied that any of its current executives were involved in wrongdoing in Brazil, and a Trafigura spokesperson last week said that the Brazilian civil case was “being vigorously contested but is currently suspended in the Brazil courts.”

Trafigura also faces a forthcoming trial in Switzerland, where the company and its former chief operating officer Mike Wainwright are charged with involvement in bribery in relation to oil deals in Angola. Trafigura has said it will defend itself in court, while Wainwright has rejected the charges against him.

Guillaume Dauphin said he was hoping to ensure that “such a discriminatory targeting against our father is not replicated for the purposes of the Swiss case regarding Angola.”

Asked how his father would have dealt with the allegations if he were alive, Dauphin drew a parallel with the 2006 Probo Koala incident in Ivory Coast involving the dumping of toxic waste.

“I don’t know what our father would have done if he were alive, but I do know what he did when confronted with the Probo Koala affair in Abidjan,” Guillaume Dauphin said. “He went there himself and assumed the company’s responsibilities, which resulted in 6 months’ imprisonment, without passing the buck to any of his colleagues.”

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