* No other Cargill businesses affected
* Cargill owns large palm plantations in Indonesia
By Christine Stebbins
CHICAGO, July 31 Global commodities trading giant Cargill Inc said on Tuesday a group of employees at its vegetable oils trading desk in Singapore had left the company but daily business operations remained unaffected.
"We have had employee changes and departures in Cargill's oil palm and vegetable oil trading operations in Singapore. No other Cargill businesses are affected. We are fortunate to have strong trading and operations teams across Cargill's global businesses that will be able to step in and continue our operations," Cargill said in a statement.
"The departures will not affect our ability to fulfill any current customer contracts or positions," Cargill added.
A company spokeswoman at Cargill's Minneapolis headquarters declined to provide any comment or details on the changes.
Cargill's sprawling Asian-Pacific operations are based at its Singapore office, established in 1981. About 500 employees are based there with business operations including animal nutrition, food ingredients, energy, shipping, trade finance, and regional and global trading desks, Cargill's website shows.
U.S. industry sources said some six employees led by former director Paul Hickman had left the company.
"It would appear that somebody just bought the six-man group to get into the business," said one U.S. cash grains broker, who requested anonymity. "It doesn't appear they went to a company that is in the business -- but that's just a speculation.
"Normally this doesn't happen in the grain business. This is more akin to what would happen in Wall Street," the broker said.
Trade sources said major Cargill competitors in Asia include trading giants such as Glencore ; Singapore-listed merchants including Noble Group and Wilmar International ; Japanese trading houses; and U.S.-based giants like ADM and Bunge Ltd.
Another trade source said the usual suspects for a raid on a major such as Cargill would include Glencore, Marubeni, Mitsui, ADM or Bunge, "although for some reason my gut feeling is not the usual suspects."
The trade source said the speculation was focused on state-related traders including China's COFCO, Sinograin and CNGOIC, the South Korean government or an India-linked trader. China and South Korea have been active in trying to acquire commodities directly from origin, including South America and Africa.
Cargill is one of the world's largest private companies with 2011 revenues totaling $119 billion. Cargill operates in 65 countries and employs 139,000, focusing on the global food chain and selected industrial and financial services.
Cargill owns and operates oil palm plantations in Indonesia, including South Sumatra and West Kalimantan, which cover about 55,000 hectares (135,850 acres) and employ about 10,000 people, according to Cargill's website. Base products are crude palm oil and palm kernel oil.