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The Swiss-based companies that keep trading in Russian oil

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 29 June 2023
Although not explicitly sanctioned, western companies have largely diminished trading Russian oil since the outbreak of war. Not so for two Swiss-headquartered companies.
The Swiss-based companies that keep trading in Russian oil
A Gunvor Maersk ship at a container terminal in northern Germany (Keystone SDA).

Swiss-headquartered energy traders Vitol and Gunvor are still buying refined Russian oil more than a year after both businesses announced they would diminish their trade with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, according to an investigative Financial Times report.

Using 2023 trade export records filed with Russian customs agencies, FT determined that Vitol and Gunvor are among the top ten buyers of Russian products such as diesel and petrol. 

Gunvor, which is headquartered in Geneva, is the eighth biggest buyer. Gunvor has already shipped about 1 million tons of petroleum worth about 484 million Swiss francs this year.

Meanwhile Vitol is the tenth largest buyer of Russian refined oil with about 600,000 tons purchased worth about 360 million Swiss francs. Vitol is headquartered out of London and Geneva.

When contacted by the FT, both companies confirmed they were still buying Russian refine oils although they debated the accuracy of the information. According to the FT, Gunvor and Vitol have stopped trading in Russian crude oil since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The Swiss-based companies that keep trading in Russian oil
Silhouette of a Russian oil pump outside of Moscow (Keystone SDA).
Is this sanctioned?

Despite Switzerland mirroring all of the EU’s sanctions on Russian people and businesses, trading Russian refined fuels is not prohibited. Because of the reliance on Russian energy for many European countries, a sanction on Russian oil trade has so far been discouraged.

DOJ: Swiss banks may have helped Russians avoid sanctions

That said, Swiss-headquartered Gunvor and Vitol were the only western-based companies that made the top ten list, according to the FT. The other eight companies originated in Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

The number one buyer is Russia’ Lukoil with nearly CHF2.7 billion in business in the first four months of 2023 alone. Before the war, that company did have branches in Geneva. Lukoil moved most of its Swiss-based operations to Dubai in 2022.

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