Read Ken Silverstein's riveting investigation of Glencore, the "biggest company you never heard of." Below are some of the documents he uncovered in his year of reporting on the hyper-secret, shady global commodities giant.
It is big, very big. The 1,637-page initial public offering (IPO) prospectus Glencore released last year revealed just how vast its reach is: The company controls more than half the international tradable market in zinc and copper and about a third of the world's seaborne coal; is one of the world's largest grain exporters, with about 9 percent of the global market; and handles 3 percent of daily global oil consumption. All of this, the prospectus says, helped the firm post revenues of $186 billion in 2011. Click here to see the prospectus document.
It is not afraid of operating in high-risk "frontier" regions. In a report on the IPO, Deutsche Bank says the company "benefits directly from the volatility" in global commodity prices -- especially in poor countries. Consider what the bank identifies as Glencore's "key drivers" of growth: copper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), coal in Colombia, oil and natural gas in Equatorial Guinea, and gold in Kazakhstan. Deutsche Bank delicately calls these places "frontier regions" or "challenging political jurisdictions" -- put simply, they all offer a dangerous mix of extraordinary natural wealth and various degrees of instability. (See page 12.)
It is well-connected in failed states. Glencore has managed to do business in the DRC, the poster child of the resource-cursed failed state, with the help of Dan Gertler, a diamond businessman from Israel who is known for his intimate ties to President Joseph Kabila. (He even reportedly has lent Kabila his private jet.) Glencore and Gertler are, through subsidiaries, shareholders in Katanga Mining. In 2009, Glencore sold stock in Katanga at roughly 60 percent of its market value to Ellesmere Global Limited, a British Virgin Islands firm whose "ultimate owner is a trust for the benefit of the family members of Dan Gertler," according to Canadian insider-trading records. Ellesmere quickly sold the stock back to Glencore at close to full market price, netting a profit of about $26 million.
It pays associates in unusual deals. In another example, detailed in this March 2011 contract, Samref Congo Sprl, a subsidiary 50 percent owned by Glencore, waived its rights of first refusal to acquire an additional stake in Mutanda Mining, a copper and cobalt producer, from Gecamines, Congo's state-owned mining company. Samref instead recommended that the shares be sold to Rowny Assets Limited, one of the offshore firms owned by Gertler's family trust. (See clauses C and D on pages 3-4 of the Gecamines contract.) It's not clear why Samref would have passed on the Gecamines offer, because business records and documents suggest that Gertler's trust picked up the Mutanda shares for a fraction of their value. Plus, the president and vice president of the Panama-registered Samref Overseas S.A., which owns Samref Congo Sprl, are both Glencore officials, and the vice president, Aristotelis Mistakidis, is even one of the handful of Glencore executives who became billionaires after the IPO. "We preferred to invest our money in developing Mutanda -- building the mines and the plant," Glencore spokesman Simon Buerk said in an e-mail explaining why the firm did not buy the shares.