U.S. Charges Former Manager of European Oil Firm over Graft in Ecuador

Sept 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has charged a former manager of a European oil trading firm with paying bribes of $870,000 to help win a contract from Ecuador's state-run oil firm.

In exchange, the former manager, Javier Aguilar, helped the firm secure contracts to buy about $300 million in fuel oil from Ecuador's state-owned oil company Petroecuador, the DoJ said on Tuesday.

"The oil trading firm paid two intermediaries $1.4 million for their efforts to secretly bribe the government officials," it said in a statement.

The scheme made use of U.S. and offshore bank accounts, with $870,000 of the funds going to pay the bribes to the Ecuadorian officials, the DoJ added.

The indictment does not name the company, but Bloomberg News reported, citing an unnamed person, that it was Aguilar's former employer, Vitol Group.

In an emailed statement to Reuters, Aguilar's lawyer, Alexander Spiro, denied the accusations but did not respond to a query whether he had worked for Vitol.

Vitol did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If convicted, Aguilar faces a maximum jail sentence of 20 years.

The DoJ accused Aguilar of concealing the bribery proceeds through false agreements to be executed with so-called consultants in the United States.

The case is the latest of a series in the United States and in Brazil against the world's largest independent oil trader.

A separate investigation started in 2018 in Brazil has targeted two other former Vitol executives.

In that year, Brazilian federal prosecutors told media that top Vitol executives had "total and unequivocal" knowledge of the graft involving Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil's state-controlled company known as Petrobras.

Two former Petrobras oil traders have been arrested and are cooperating with U.S. authorities, according to court documents from the Brazil investigation, known as Car Wash.

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