Africa Oil & Gas: TRAFIGURA suspected of breaking embargo on North Korea


The holding company Trafigura, the main oil supplier to Angola, is quoted in a Bloomberg investigation as one of the companies that can break through the economic sanctions imposed on North Korea by selling oil to the country.

“The application of international measures to limit sales to North Korea is becoming almost impossible because suppliers are using old practices that help hide the origin and destination of oil cargo,” writes the financial information agency , citing specifically Trafigura.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said last week that the Trafigura Group was the owner of the cargo transported by the oil tanker Lighthouse Winmore and that the authorities were investigating the transfer to North Korea, using the old technique of turning off the transmitters for a period of time, sufficient for two oil tankers to approach and be able to tranship the cargo without registering their location.

According to a report by the Swiss NGO ‘Public Eye’, Trafigura is a holding company in which oil accounts for 67% of profit in 2015, with physical assets of almost 40 billion dollars, “including mines , ships, storage tanks, gasoline pumps and pipelines.

Trafigura, the largest oil refiner in Angola, controls 48.4 percent of Puma Energy (owner of Pumangol gas pumps), a company whose shareholders include state oil company Sonangol with 30 percent and a private company called Cochan, with 15% more, whose executive director is General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, known in Angola as ‘Dino’, and in 2010 was named minister of state and head of the Military House.

The report explains that “the remaining shares are held by offshore companies owned by Trafigura managers, which gives them the de facto control of the majority of Puma, since Trafigura is owned by the same group of individuals.”

Trafigura “denied being involved in any illicit transaction, saying it was neither the owner of the tanker nor the cargo” that the ship was carrying, it wrote to Bloomberg.

“These transfers between ships can happen 200 nautical miles or more in the sea, provided conditions are calm, and nobody is watching,” commented analyst Rahul Kapoor, confirming that “it is very easy to make a ship’s location disappear and hide it “.

In practice, the two ships only have to switch off the transmitter, move closer to each other, transfer the load, and then move away again before reconnecting the recording device.

For 10 days in October, the Lighthouse Winmore, whose cargo is allegedly owned by Trafigura, did not emit any trace of location, Bloomberg news reports, however, believing that ship-to-ship transfer is a common practice in the oil industry.

“If done by the wrong people, this normal oil industry practice can be used for bad ends,” said analyst Den Syahril of Singapore’s FGE consultancy.

At the end of a meeting in Vancouver on the North Korean nuclear threat, the United States and allies called for a strengthening of maritime surveillance to prevent Pyongyang from evading sanctions.

Representatives from some 20 countries, including Japan and South Korea, meeting in Canada, supported “a strengthening of the maritime ban to prevent ship-to-ship transfers” made to evade controls and obtain illegal supplies, said the secretary of the United States.

Rex Tillerson told a press conference that no one wants to “interfere with legitimate maritime activities.”

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