President López Obrador said Thursday that federal authorities are investigating Pemex officials who allegedly received bribes from a large oil trading company that has admitted to engaging in corruption in Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador.
Vitol, the biggest independent oil trader in the world, admitted in the United States last week that it paid bribes through employees and intermediaries to state oil company officials in Mexico between 2015 and 2020. The admission came during a criminal settlement with the United States Department of Justice.
A Dutch company with offices around the world, Vitol agreed to pay authorities in the United States and Brazil more than US $160 million to resolve probes related to its corrupt activity.
The company admitted to paying about $2 million in bribes in Mexico and Ecuador to obtain contracts and inside information.
Speaking at his regular news conference on Thursday, López Obrador said that an investigation into Vitol’s payment of bribes in Mexico is underway.
“It’s accused in the United States of having delivered bribes to Pemex officials, not just in the previous administration but also during our government. … It’s being investigated and if it’s true those responsible will be punished. We don’t cover up anything,” he said.
“… What we must do is clean up, we all have to help so that there is no corruption … and no impunity.”
The news agency Bloomberg reported that the trading arm of Pemex is imposing an informal temporary ban on conducting business with Vitol, saying that its information came from people with knowledge of the situation.
Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington, said he doubted Mexico will carry out an effective investigation into Vitol’s activities in Mexico.
“The capacity doesn’t exist, and honestly the political will doesn’t exist either,” he said.
However, the accusation of wrongdoing “plays directly into the hands of the president in his attacks on the private sector and particularly on foreign companies,” Wood said.
Brazilian construction company Odebrecht has also admitted to paying bribes in Mexico during the previous federal government.
Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya has admitted to negotiating bribe payments with the company on the government’s behalf and is currently cooperating with authorities in the hope that he will be acquitted or given a lighter sentence on the corruption charges he faces.
He has accused former president Enrique Peña Nieto and his finance minister Luis Videgaray of leading a bribery scheme within the 2012-2018 government, effectively portraying himself as a victim of their corruption.