For more than a year now, the big story about Glencore International Ltd. has been its effort to take over mining company Xstrata. But an exclusive report at Reuters today could change all that.
The report claims that Reuters has seen a "Western intelligence report" describing how Glencore "provided Iralco [Iranian Aluminum Co.] with thousands of tons of alumina last year in exchange for a lesser amount of aluminum metal. The report's authenticity was confirmed by U.N. diplomats." Aluminum is a key ingredient in the manufacture of tubes used in uranium enrichment centrifuges.
Reuters said it did not know if any of the raw alumina shipped to Iran actually was used to make the aluminum tubes. The report does claim that the terms of the deal, which Glencore acknowledges was struck in August 2011, indicated that for every five tons of alumina supplied by Glencore, the trading house received just one ton of finished aluminum. Typically it takes just two tons of alumina to make one ton of aluminum. Where did the rest go?
Glencore said it first learned of a relationship between Iralco and Iran's nuclear centrifuge maker in December of 2012 and stopped further shipments immediately. The last actual shipment was made in October 2012, according to the company. Glencore admitted signing the August 2011 deal with Iralco and told Reuters "it was perfectly legal and [Glencore] denied any wrongdoing by the firm or attempts to help Iran bypass sanctions."
It is possible that Glencore was an unwitting accomplice to Iran's nuclear development program. Until very recently, Iran had gotten very clever at finding ways to dodge sanctions imposed on the country because of its nuclear program. Barter deals, apparently like the one with Glencore, were simple and common. Iran had such deals with India and China and may have tried to set some up with Russia.
The completion of Glencore's acquisition of Xstrata still requires China's approval, and this report is not likely to have much impact on that decision. China could, however, use the Iranian deal to wring out a concession or two from Glencore in exchange for a Chinese OK. Both Glencore and and China are experienced horse traders after all.
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