On August 21, 2023, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced the indictment of Texas resident Javier Alejandro Aguilar Morales, a former manager and oil trader for the energy company Vitol Inc., for his alleged involvement in a bribery and money laundering scheme. Aguilar is accused of conspiring with others to bribe Mexican officials to enable Vitol to obtain and retain business with Mexico’s state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (“PEMEX”) and its US-headquartered subsidiary PEMEX Procurement International, Inc. (“PPI”). The DOJ alleges this conduct violated the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), a federal anti-money laundering statute (18 USC § 1956), and the Travel Act. The Travel Act is a statute that prohibits interstate or foreign travel, or the use of the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, to promote, manage, establish, carry on, commit, facilitate, or distribute the proceeds of certain specified “unlawful activity.” The indictment alleges that the specific “unlawful activity” was a violation of the Texas Commercial Bribery statute. The indictment also includes a conspiracy to violate the FCPA charge. At his arraignment on August 21, 2023, Aguilar pleaded not guilty to all charges.
According to the indictment, between 2017 and 2020, Aguilar worked with others to knowingly and willfully pay approximately $600,000 in bribes to Mexican officials in exchange for confidential, inside information that would give Vitol a business advantage in winning contracts with PPI, including a contract to supply ethane to PEMEX through PPI. In an effort to hide the true nature of the payments, Aguilar and his co-conspirators allegedly sent bribes and other corrupt payments to domestic and offshore bank accounts through a network of shell companies and intermediaries that were located in the US. The indictment further alleges that some of the payments were processed through US-based correspondent banks.
Aguilar is also accused of concealing the illicit payments by working with co-conspirators to create sham brokerage and commodity swap agreements and sham consulting agreements and invoices; using encrypted messaging platforms and non-business email accounts to communicate about the scheme; and using code names and code words in communications to refer to co-conspirators and corrupt funds in the scheme.