Oil trader causes $320 million loss at Mitsubishi unit

The accused employee manipulated data in Petro-Diamond’s risk management system

Mitsubishi started probing the trader's dealings in August when when he was absent from work. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Mitsubishi said an oil trader at its Singapore unit lost $320 million (Dh1.2 billion) in unauthorised transactions disguised as legitimate hedges for customers.

The employee, a Chinese national working at Petro-Diamond Singapore Pte, has been fired and reported to police, Mitsubishi said in a statement, declining to name him. The trader, hired in November 2018 to handle oil business with China, “repeatedly” engaged in the unauthorised deals since January, disguising them to “look like hedge transactions,” the parent company said.

A person familiar with the matter identified the trader as Wang Xingchen, also known as Jack Wang. Calls to Mr Wang’s mobile phone wouldn’t connect, while a person who answered the phone at Petro-Diamond’s Singapore office said he has left the company. No other current contact details were available.

A loss of $320m would be less than one-tenth of Mitsubishi’s projected profit for the year. In August, the giant trading house, the biggest of Japan’s so-called sogo shosha, forecast full year net income of $5.6bn.

The oil market has a long and colourful history of trading busts. Metallgesellschaft suffered a $1.2bn loss in 1994 when a hedging strategy failed. In 2004, China Aviation Oil suffered its infamous $550m blunder, when the company fell afoul of a surge in prices.

Another Japanese trading company, Mitsui, was forced to close its Singapore oil-trading unit in 2007 after a trader lost $81m in hidden naphtha trades. The dealer and his supervisor were imprisoned. And in December last year, two top officials at Chinese oil trading giant Unipec were suspended following losses of about $656m.

In the latest scandal to befall the industry, Mitsubishi said the employee manipulated data in Petro-Diamond’s risk management system so that the transactions appeared to be associated with actual trades with customers.

“Large losses from derivatives trading” were incurred since July as the price of oil dropped, and the unit began an investigation into the transactions in the middle of August when the employee was absent from work, Mitsubishi said.

The trader was fired on 18 September and reported to police the next day. The Singapore police wasn’t immediately able to comment.

Petro-Diamond Singapore had revenue of $6.7bn in the year ending March 2018, according to the financial profile filed with the city’s accounting regulator.