BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian court convicted a subsidiary of commodities trader Glencore (GLEN.L) and others on Wednesday of bribing a European Union official in return for market-sensitive information.
Glencore Grain Rotterdam, part of the world's largest diversified commodities trader, was found guilty of paying the official's large mobile phone bills and laying on a French holiday to secure information about grain subsidies.
"The holiday offered by Glencore Grain Rotterdam to Karel Brus in the south of France in June 2003 was in relation to the obtaining of secret information," Judge Pierre Hendrickx told the court before fining the unit 500,000 euros ($623,600).
In 2002 and 2003 Glencore paid 20,000 euros in phone bills for Brus.
"The mobile telephone was at the same time an element to be used to facilitate the violation of professional secrets ... and an advantage used to incite him to agree to commit these indiscretions," Hendrickx said.
Since the fraud took place, the European Commission's Agriculture department has introduced measures to discourage similar problems.
It has adopted a policy of moving staff in some sensitive positions every five years and put the analysis of market information and the preparation of market decisions into separate directorates, a spokesman said.
Since 2003 there has been a significant decrease in expenditure on export refunds, the subject of the case, he said.
"Spending on cereals export refunds in 2000 was more than 800 million euros, and was zero in 2011, and remains at zero this year," the spokesman said in an emailed statement.
The court also convicted some other companies and individuals, including French agricultural cooperative Union Invivo, of providing or facilitating bribes.
The case centered on Brus, a former EU agriculture department official, who was accused of passing confidential information about EU export subsidy applications in 2002 and 2003. Brus was sentenced to 40 months in jail.
On receiving the judgment, Brus, dressed in a crumpled grey jacket and a light shirt, bowed his head and stared at the floor.
The companies received confidential information that allowed them to put in favorable bids in tenders for European export subsidies.
Asked whether it would appeal, a spokesman for Glencore said: "We're considering our position." The lawyer for Brus, Gert Warson, described his client as a "scapegoat".
($1 = 0.8019 euros)
Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Anthony Barker and Jane Baird