Germany: Former Volkswagen CEO prosecuted
On 3 May 2018, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision to prosecute Martin Winterkorn, former CEO of the German car manufacturing company Volkswagen Group, with conspiracy and wire fraud. Winterkorn becomes the highest-ranking VW official to be charged in relation to the company’s emissions scandal, which broke in 2015 after US authorities revealed that VW had cheated on emissions tests. In two of the US’s most recent motor industry scandals – Toyota’s recall of faulty vehicles in 2009, and General Motors’ recall ofthousands of defective vehicles in 2014 – no top officials were criminally penalised, making Winterkorn’s case the first.
US/EU: President Trump announces withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal
On 8 May, President Donald Trump announced that the US will unilaterally withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and is set to renew sanctions on Iran. US sanctions reimposed on Iran following Trump’s withdrawal not only block American firms from doing business in the country, but also bar foreign firms operating in Iran from accessing the entire US financial system. EU companies that have interests in the US will need to secure special licenses from OFAC if they wish to continue business in Iran without risking being sanctioned by the US.
On 16 May, EU leaders met in Sofia, Bulgaria, where they agreed to attempt to salvage the deal and maintain their economic cooperation with Tehran. In order for this to succeed, these EU countries need to extend financing and guarantees of European investment in Iran, in addition to Iran agreeing to abide by the deal.
Nigeria/Italy: Shell and Eni in Italian court on bribery charges
On 14 May, 15 former and current employees of oil companies Royal Dutch Shell plc and Eni SpA were put on trial in an Italian court over alleged bribes paid in 2011 to Nigerian officials to secure offshore exploration licences. Shell and Eni are accused by the Milan public prosecutor of having paid GBP 520 million to companies owned by Nigerian officials, including Goodluck Jonathan, the former president of Nigeria, and Dan Etete, the former petroleum minister of Nigeria who is also facing trial. Both Shell and Eni deny the allegations.
Angola/Switzerland: Swiss probe into funds of Angola’s central bank and sovereign wealth fund
In mid-May, Swiss authorities raided several locations in Switzerland as part of a criminal investigation launched in April by Switzerland’s attorney general into suspected money laundering associated with the funds of Angola’s central bank and its sovereign wealth fund. Although Swiss authorities have yet to specify the entities under investigation, since November last year Angola’s sovereign wealth fund has been embroiled in a dispute with its former boss, the ex-president’s son José Filomeno dos Santos, and Quantum Global, the fund’s former asset manager, which is headed by a close friend of José Filomeno.