* Prosecutors to question former Gunvor agent
* Case could shed light on secret trading world
* Gunvor filed criminal complaint for embezzlement
* Case may signal Swiss serious about improving image
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, Feb 12 Switzerland has stepped up a
criminal investigation into an oil contract in the Republic of
Congo and will question a former Gunvor employee and his
associate on suspicions of fraud, the company confirmed.
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
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 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 itself is not the subject of the
"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 in
"One of the goals to find out is if these people belong to a
system or if they acted on their own," he added.
The attorney general's office confirmed that the suspicions
were fraud, criminal mismanagement and misappropriation and that
the latest stage of the preliminary proceedings had begun on
Swiss-based Gunvor confirmed that in November it filed a
criminal complaint with the attorney general alleging fraud and
embezzlement against the former employee, whom it dismissed last
year. Gunvor is now a plaintiff in those proceedings.
It declined further comment.
Lauber described the case as "complicated" and said it was
likely to involve requests for judicial assistance from several
countries, declining to name them.
If the case goes to court, it could shed light on the
normally secretive world of oil trading, in which firms jockey
for lucrative contracts with African governments.
Gunvor, which trades around 2.5 million barrels of oil each
day, stepped up activities in the west African region in
2009-2010 when it hired a team of experienced traders from
Geneva-based rival Addax Petroleum, industry sources said.
Previously the dominant buyer of Russian oil, Gunvor has
sought to diversify its sources of crude in recent years and now
buys from more than 35 countries.
Gunvor, co-owned by Gennady Timchenko and Torbjorn
Tornqvist, is also one of a handful of Swiss trading houses with
an oil export contract from Nigeria.
The case would signal to critics that Switzerland - a major
hub for oil trading and banking - is serious about improving its
image as a transit point for suspicious money flows.
Lauber said 200 to 400 money laundering cases were reported
to the attorney general each year.
Switzerland identified a record amount of suspicious money
flows at more than 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.26 billion) in
($1 = 0.9195 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Jane