(Bloomberg) -- Trafigura Group agreed to pay $55 million to settle allegations from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission that it manipulated a fuel oil benchmark and blocked employees from cooperating with regulators.

The case is the latest in a string of recent allegations of wrongdoing to hit Trafigura, one of the world’s largest commodity traders, after it pleaded guilty in March to bribing Brazilian oil officials and in December was charged by Swiss prosecutors over alleged corruption in Angola. They also mark the latest move by the CFTC, which has historically focused on futures markets, to target wrongdoing by physical commodity traders.

The CFTC on Monday made three separate allegations of wrongdoing against Trafigura.

It said that the trading house improperly obtained nonpublic information related to the gasoline market from a Mexican trading firm between 2014 and 2019. It said the company in February 2017 manipulated the Platts US fuel oil benchmark to benefit its derivatives positions. And it said that Trafigura interfered with communications with whistleblowers by requiring employees to sign agreements containing non-disclosure clauses. 

Trafigura didn’t admit to or deny the regulator’s allegations in agreeing to settle the case. “Since the period in question, Trafigura has voluntarily undertaken significant steps to enhance its compliance program,” the company said in a statement.

The CFTC’s order did not name the “Mexican trading entity” from which Trafigura obtained nonpublic information, but it did describe the lengths the individuals involved went to in order to avoid discovery.

“Certain Trafigura traders understood the sensitivity of the improperly obtained confidential information, and took steps to maintain it in confidence,” according to the CFTC. “Documents were sometimes hand-delivered from Mexico to the United States in paper format leaving no electronic record that Trafigura had the information.”

No individual traders were identified in the order or charged with wrongdoing. A Trafigura spokesperson declined to say whether the individuals in question still worked at the company.

Trafigura is the latest major trading company to be accused of manipulating US fuel oil prices. The CFTC previously accused its rivals Vitol Group and Glencore Plc of manipulating the same market. Similarly to those cases, Trafigura was accused of manipulating physical benchmarks published by S&P Global Platts.

In February 2017, Trafigura bid heavily for US Gulf Coast high-sulfur fuel oil during the Platts “window,” a key liquidity point on which the benchmark is based. It bought 80 cargoes, or 3.6 million barrels, in the window, more than it had ever previously purchased in a single month. 

The CFTC said that this purchasing strategy benefited Trafigura’s derivatives positions, which stood to benefit from a rise in the benchmark.

“Trafigura’s near exclusive use of the Platts window to source large quantities of fuel oil in one month departed from its past conduct, and the large volume created artificially high USGC HSFO Benchmark values throughout February 2017 that were not reflective of ordinary forces of supply and demand,” the CFTC said.

Finally, the CFTC said that Trafigura had illegally impeded individuals from communicating with its staff by requiring its employees to sign agreements with non-disclosure clauses that did not include any exception for communicating with law enforcement or regulators. The CFTC said this was the first time a company had been charged with interfering with whistleblower communications.

CFTC commissioners Summer Mersinger and Caroline Pham, both Republicans, issued statements criticizing the charge related to the employee agreements. Mersinger argued that the agency was “falling victim to regulating by enforcement” and that it should have been more explicit about its requirements surrounding non-disclosure agreements.

Trafigura said it would modify the non-disclosure clauses in its contracts to make clear that they did not limit communications with government authorities about potential violations of law.

(Updates with statement from CFTC commissioner in penultimate paragraph.)

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