Alleged bribery of eyewitnesses by Trafigura and MacFarlanes
1. The Dutch media have aired detailed allegations that a major London law firm, acting on
behalf of Trafigura, offered bribes to witnesses in a civil case being brought in the UK courts
against the company over the toxic dumping incident. Despite the gravity of these
allegations, they have not been reported in the mainstream UK media. Only one outlet – the
magazine Private Eye – has made any mention of them. One journalist has told me explicitly
that they want to run this story but dare not for fear of the legal repercussions.
2. Media outlets outside the UK have consistently reported that the 2006 toxic waste
incident caused at least 15 deaths. In contrast, many UK media articles about the case have
made no mention of this central allegation. In one instance, Trafigura successfully sued the
BBC for libel over the allegation, and in others it was able to secure a retraction. No legal
action has been taken against media outside the UK who have reported on the alleged
3. Trafigura is currently under investigation by the Dutch authorities over an alleged bribe of
466,000 Euros made by Trafigura from its UK bank account to Jamaica’s ruling People’s
National Party (PNP). The Dutch investigation has been widely reported in Jamaica. Yet
despite the fact that the allegedly corrupt payments originated in the UK, our media have
not covered it.
Alleged bribery of eyewitnesses by Trafigura and MacFarlanes
In May 2010, the Dutch media published detailed allegations of corruption relating to
Trafigura and a major London law firm, MacFarlanes. In a series of interviews aired by
NOVA TV, a number of the drivers involved in dumping the waste alleged that they had
been offered bribes by MacFarlanes to give false testimony to the UK courts in a civil case
against Trafigura over the dumping incident (http://vimeo.com/16874069).
According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide:
The drivers who dumped the waste now say they were approached by Trafigura’s lawyers and asked
to sign false statements. They were persuaded to lie about the nature of the waste and to deny they
had suffered health problems.
“There are some sentences in the declaration that are not true, they are lies,” says one of the
drivers who was approached by Trafigura.
The drivers say they each received 650 euros in exchange for signing the false statements. They
were told that the statements would be used in the London court case Trafigura was fighting against
the Ivorian victims…
The drivers say they were approached a second time by Trafigura, this time to sign a statement that
they had never received money from the company. They claim to have received 2,300 euros each
for the second statement.
Trafigura and MacFarlanes deny these allegations, saying that such behaviour would have
been “grossly unethical” and “would have constituted serious professional misconduct by
Nonetheless, given the nature of the allegations, and the fact those making them were
prepared to do so on camera, it is striking that – other than one piece in Private Eye – the
mainstream UK media has made no mention of them.
To the best of my knowledge, Trafigura and MacFarlanes have taken no action against any of
the Dutch media that have reported the story.
Death toll from the 2006 toxic waste incident
“I was supposed to do an interview on British radio the day that the court in Abidjan had
come to a decision and had sent two people to jail. I was told that I should in no way
mention Trafigura because of possible libel claims.” – Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace, May
In May 2009, Trafigura issued libel proceedings against the BBC over a Newsnight feature
which alleged that the 2006 incident had led to a number of deaths and serious injuries. In
early December 2009, the programme, and its accompanying article, disappeared from the
BBC’s website without explanation (although it reappeared on the website Youtube soon
On December 17th, the BBC announced that it had agreed to withdraw its allegations about
the Probo Koala incident, pay damages, and broadcast a public apology. Some reports
suggested that fighting the case could have cost the BBC up to £3 million had it come to
Commenting on the settlement, Trafigura noted that the BBC had ‘stated that Trafigura’s
actions had caused a number of deaths, miscarriages and serious and long-term injuries in
Abidjan in what Newsnight claimed “may be the biggest incident of its kind since….Bhopal.”’.
Trafigura described these as “grave, yet wholly false allegations”, over which it had “no
alternative but to commence libel proceedings”
Yet Trafigura appears to have taken no legal action over a November 2009 New York Times
article which described the Probo Koala incident as “one of the worst toxic dumping
scandals in years”, which had “become notorious as a kind of African Bhopal”, and claimed
that “About 108,000 people sought treatment for nausea, headaches, vomiting and
abdominal pains, and at least 15 died”.
On February 22nd 2010, the Independent newspaper published an apology and ‘correction’
for its September 2009 article, “Toxic shame: Thousands injured in African city” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/trafigura-no-link-identified-between-toxicdumping-
On April 30th 2010, the Times issued a ‘correction’ over a March 26th article which had
referred to allegations that the Probo Koala incident had led to 17 deaths. The correction
stated that “the dumping was not carried out by Trafigura… but by an independent local
contractor without Trafigura’s authority or knowledge. Furthermore, in September 2009
lawyers for Ivorians who were suing Trafigura over injuries allegedly caused by the dumping
acknowledged that at worst the waste could only have caused flu-like symptoms”.
To the best of my knowledge, Trafigura has taken no action against any media outlet outside
of the UK that have made similar allegations. Trafigura continues to deny that its waste
caused any deaths.
Alleged bribery of Jamaica’s ruling party
According to the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, Trafigura is currently under investigation by
the Dutch authorities over an alleged bribe of 466,000 Euros made in 2006 by Trafigura
from its UK bank account to Jamaica’s ruling People’s National Party (PNP). While some of
these allegations have previously been reported in the Guardian, to my knowledge the
current investigation has not been mentioned anywhere in the UK media.
The Gleaner reports that a senior politician, Bruce Golding, who was until recently Jamaica’s
Prime Minister, has made a formal complaint to the Dutch authorities asking them to
investigate whether this payment amounted to a criminal offence in the Netherlands.
According to the Gleaner:
Golding also told Dutch authorities that on August 23 , Charles Dauphin, president of
Trafigura, arrived in Jamaica and met with government ministers… He said no public announcement
of these meetings was made to the people of Jamaica… He stated that in early September 2006,
between September 6 and 12, prior to the PNP’s annual conference, Trafigura transferred
€466,000 or more than J$31 million from its account in the United Kingdom to an account in
Jamaica known as CCOC Association…
The address provided by CCOC Association is c/o Portmore Gas, Bridgeport, St Catherine … . One of
the signatories on this account is Senator Colin Campbell, general secretary of the PNP and a
minister of government having portfolio responsibility for information and development.”
The document stated that shortly after the funds were received into the account, two cheques
totalling $30 million were issued payable to SW Services (Team Jamaica), both bearing Campbell’s
Golding noted that on Thursday, October, 2006, the chairman of the PNP, Robert Pickersgill,
confirmed payment of the funds by Trafigura and described it as an unsolicited donation to the PNP
for its upcoming political campaign.
Greenpeace International reports that: “Trafigura is thought to have bribed a Jamaican
politician with the apparent aim of extending an oil contract of Nigerian oil.”
Trafigura insist that the money was a political donation and that they have done nothing
Trafigura’s “reputation management” strategy has not prevented the above information from
being read, and shared, in the UK. But it has inhibited the ability of our domestic media to
debate these very serious issues openly and robustly, and left the British public reliant on the
foreign press to inform them of the full facts behind a major public interest story. The
Trafigura case highlights a worrying gulf between our own media laws and those of the
United States and our European neighbours, and raises serious questions about the state of
freedom of expression in the UK.
7 December 2011