Emma Farge Geneva

Switzerland had stepped up a criminal investigation into an oil contract in the Republic of Congo and would question a former Gunvor Group employee and his associate on suspicions of fraud, the company confirmed yesterday.

The attorney general originally opened the money laundering investigation in late 2011, but did not have sufficient evidence until last month to identify the individuals and proceed with questioning.

At issue is whether the former Gunvor agent and his associate siphoned off millions of dollars in connection with a contract in the former French colony in west Africa, worth over $2 billion (R18bn) according to Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

In accordance with Swiss privacy laws, the individuals were not named, although the same paper referred to him as a 40-year-old Belgian. Gunvor is not the subject of the investigation.

“We’ve found real links which we think justify to open an investigation against specific people. We are now proceeding with legal mutual assistance requests and analysing the financial flows,” Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber said.

The attorney general’s office confirmed that the suspicions were fraud, criminal mismanagement and misappropriation. The latest stage of the proceedings had begun on January 17.

Gunvor confirmed that it had filed a criminal complaint with the attorney general in November alleging fraud and embezzlement against the former employee, whom it dismissed last year. Gunvor is now a plaintiff in those proceedings.

Lauber described the case as “complicated” and said it was likely to involve requests for judicial assistance from several countries.

If the case goes to court, it could shed light on the secretive world of oil trading, in which firms jockey for contracts with African governments. – Reuters