A former oil trader at mining company Glencore PLC pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to manipulate fuel prices, in a case that signals a new front in a long-running crackdown by prosecutors on efforts to improperly steer oil trading benchmarks that influence real-world prices.
Appearing via videoconference from his lawyers’ offices in California, the ex-trader, Emilio Jose Heredia Collado, admitted to allegations that accused him of working to manipulate an oil-price benchmark by directing other traders to submit orders that would push prices in the direction he wanted. “Guilty,” Mr. Heredia said when asked how he wished to plead to the one count of conspiracy that prosecutors had charged him with. The case against Mr. Heredia related to trading through a process managed by oil-price benchmark publisher S&P Global Platts.
At the brief Zoom hearing before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Sullivan said that Mr. Heredia was cooperating in the government’s ongoing investigation.
He faces up to five years in prison, but he could face less than that if the government determined he had offered substantial assistance, the judge noted. Prosecutors said Mr. Herdedia, 49 years old, worked to engineer benchmark prices between 2012 and 2016 that would improve the profitability of other transactions in physical fuel oil.
The case echoes claims previously investigated in Europe and targets conduct first revealed by The Wall Street Journal in 2013, in an article that showed traders admitting they could manipulate prices on the Platts system.