Jamaica’s former prime minister will be questioned in open court as part of an investigation into alleged bribery by Trafigura, one of the world’s largest commodity traders.

The Jamaican investigation comes as Trafigura’s chief executive Jeremy Weir is dealing with multiple accusations of wrongdoing against the trading giant. Among the mounting problems Trafigura faces are a corruption investigation in Brazil, being blacklisted in Mexico and a criminal theft trial in Nigeria.

The Jamaican investigation stems from a $31 million donation given by a Dutch subsidiary of Trafigura to the People’s National Party (PNP) in 2006 – the same year the PNP took power. Trafigura had an oil-transportation contract with the Jamaican Government at the time.

Dutch officials asked the Jamaican Director of Public Prosecutions to question officials over the donation as such payments are illegal for Dutch companies.

Prosecutors want to hear from five officials: former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller; former energy minister Philip Paulwell; former PNP chairman Robert Pickersgill; former general secretary Colin Campbell; and businessman Norton Hinds.

The five officials asked the Jamaican Supreme Court to allow their evidence to be given privately rather than in open court. The Supreme Court said this was not possible and the case was taken to the Court of Appeals and ultimately the UK Privy Council, which is the final arbiter of Jamaican law.

The Privy Council ruled earlier this year that the testimony should be given in open court and it was announced on 5 August 2021 that the case will be heard over five days in March next year.

Mark Golding, the current president of the PNP, said: “The information requested by the Dutch authorities should now be provided without delay. Let the truth come out, and let the chips fall where they may.”

The bribery hearing in Jamaica comes as Trafigura is dealing with a number of other corruption-related issues. In Brazil, the “Lava Jato” (Carwash) investigation has led to prosecutors filing a civil lawsuit against Trafigura and 12 individuals linked to the company. It is alleged that Trafigura paid bribes worth $1.3 million to secure 31 oil deals in 2012 and 2013.

Trafigura is also under criminal investigation in Brazil for alleged paying bribes worth about $15 million to executives of the state-owned oil company Petrobras.

Trafigura has said that any allegations that current management were involved in improper payments are “unsupported by the evidence and untrue.”

The fallout from Brazil’s Carwash investigation is being felt elsewhere in Latin America after Mexico’s Pemex said that it would stop trading with Trafigura. It has been reported that the Mexican Government is concerned about Pemex’s exposure to companies accused of corruption. Trafigura has said that it sees no reason for the ban.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria the Federal Government has brought charges against Trafigura for theft and receiving stolen goods.

These mounting problems have cast doubt on CEO Jeremy Weir’s promise to ensure that Trafigura achieves “best practice” in its dealings with foreign governments.

Weir has promised that the trading firm will “work responsible and engage openly” with its counterparties around the world, although he faces difficulty overcoming Trafigura’s traditional culture of secrecy. Photo by Wikimedia commons.