* After buying co-founder's stake, Tornqvist says trading
* U.S. banks among first to clear trades on Friday, CEO says
* Shell decided trade could continue after review - email
* Gunvor active in oil market on Friday, trades with Total
(Updates, recasts with CEO interview)
By Dmitry Zhdannikov, Peg Mackey and Ron Bousso
NEW YORK/LONDON, March 21 Swiss commodity giant
Gunvor was doing business with oil firms and U.S. banks on
Friday after shock sanctions on Russian co-founder Gennady
Timchenko rattled counterparties and threatened to disrupt its
$250 million a day business.
While a few anxious trading partners are still reviewing
their activities, business is steadily returning to normal after
several harried days preparing for possible sanctions and then
containing the fallout, Chief Executive Officer Torbjorn
Tornqvist took full control of the trading empire this week
after buying out Timchenko's 43.5 percent share.
The firm had multiple calls with banks, bond investors and
counterparties on Friday morning to explain its position.
"All banks are supporting us. All U.S. banks were among the
first to clear us," Tornqvist told Reuters. "The vast majority
of counterparties have also done this. There are still a few
going through their reviews."
The United States added Timchenko and several other Russian
businessmen to its sanctions list on Thursday to put pressure on
Russia over the annexation of Crimea. Gunvor, the world's No. 4
oil trader, said Timchenko had sold his share on Wednesday as
part of a contingency plan to keep the business he co-founded in
1997 running smoothly.
"We have been assessing the situation for a few weeks. And
we saw that sanctions of that sort might be coming," Tornqvist
said. "By Wednesday, we were pretty convinced that the sale was
the only way forward for the company."
He declined to say how much he paid for the stake, saying
only it was "fair value."
Timchenko, 61, was listed by Forbes as the 61st richest
person in the world this month, with an estimated fortune of
The U.S. Treasury department said on Thursday the sanctions
targeted Timchenko and not Gunvor, but the news still spooked
counterparties across the world which trade more than 2 million
barrels of crude oil and refined oil products with Gunvor every
day, plus other commodities including natural gas and coal.
Oil major Royal Dutch Shell concluded that it could
still trade with Gunvor after reviewing the sanctions and
Timchenko's share sale, according to an internal email.
A Shell spokesman declined to comment on the email.
"Shell monitors trade controls and sanctions closely and
will respond appropriately to ensure that we comply with all
applicable international sanctions and related measures," the
U.S. giant Exxon was also still trading with the
firm, a source said.
Chevron had no immediate comment on the status of
any trading with Gunvor, while ConocoPhillips said it
acted in full compliance with U.S. law.
European oil company Lundin Petroleum, which
shares a stake in a Russian oil development with Gunvor, said
its business relationship with the firm was not affected.
Gunvor trades nearly 3 percent of the world's oil supply,
having grown from a $5 billion a year bit player in European
markets in 2004 to a global behemoth with turnover of $93
billion in 2012.
"Gunvor is a very profitable company," Tornqvist said. "We
continue to grow, expand and diversify outside Russia. Only 20
percent of our business is based in Russia these days. We should
not be dragged into things such as sanctions on Russia.
"The reality is we are not on the sanctions list and we
don't expect to be," he said.
Gunvor is not a well-known name outside of oil and
commodities trading circles. It trades commodities on U.S.
exchanges and enters into derivatives and swaps transactions
with the biggest players in energy and banking. Its
counterparties and banks include Goldman Sachs and Vitol
Gunvor was active in the oil market on Friday, buying a
cargo of gasoline from France's Total in Asia and
selling gasoil in Europe.
On a conference call with investors, Gunvor sought to
"We had a great deal of support. The banks had to digest the
situation. They saw we are not in the sanctions list and that we
made steps to ensure continuity of the business," Gunvor's
spokesman said. "It is not business as usual yet but we are on
the path to it."
Bond traders priced in a greater risk of default on Gunvor's
$500 million of notes due in May 2018, with
yields jumping to above 10 percent from around 7.5 percent
before the sanctions on Timchenko were announced.
The U.S. Treasury cautioned Americans on Thursday against
conducting transactions with a Russian firm that may be
controlled by an individual under sanctions, even if that person
does not hold a majority stake.
In naming Timchenko, the U.S Treasury said Russian President
Vladimir Putin had investments in Gunvor. Putin did not respond
on Friday to the allegation, but he has repeatedly denied having
helped Timchenko build his oil empire.
(Additional reporting by Seng Li Peng in Singapore, Julia
Payne, David Sheppard, Sujata Rao-Coverley and Simon Falush in
London, Dmitry Zhdannikov in New York; Writing by Alex Lawler;
Editing by Veronica Brown, Anthony Barker and Ross Colvin)