* Money laundering probe began in 2011, later widened to Gunvor
* Decision by Swiss prosecutors is unprecedented - Public Eye
* Gunvor had $625 mln in deals with Congo, got Ivorian oil cargoes (Adds context from Swiss campaign organisation)
By Julia Payne
LONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Swiss federal prosecutors have found oil trader Gunvor Group criminally liable for corruption in Congo Republic and Ivory Coast, ordering it to pay almost 94 million Swiss francs ($94.8 million), the Swiss Attorney General's Office said on Thursday.
The settlement includes a fine of 4 million Swiss francs, out of a maximum of 5 million, as well as gross profit plus interest it gained from oil deals in the two west African countries in 2009-2011 worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The decision is the first time in Switzerland that a major trading firm has been found guilty on such charges, Swiss campaign group Public Eye said. It published an investigation into the deals in 2017.
"The Geneva commodities trader has been convicted of failing to take all the organisational measures that were reasonable and necessary to prevent its employees and agents from bribing public officials in order to gain access to the petroleum markets in the Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast," a statement from the Swiss Attorney General's Office said.
Gunvor, one of the world's top energy traders, said in response to the ruling that there was "no conscious or desired involvement of employees or members of management in these activities".
It added that no current employees or businesses of Gunvor Group were involved in any related ongoing litigation or investigations.
The Attorney General (AG) began a money laundering probe in late 2011 into unknown individuals that grew over the years. It began investigating Gunvor as a company for organisational deficiencies in 2017.
A former employee, Pascal Collard, signed a plea deal in 2018 in which he admitted paying bribes to win contracts for the firm. He said senior management was fully aware and approved the transactions, according to a Swiss prosecution document.
As a result of the payments, Gunvor secured a three-year oil supply contract from Congo state oil firm SNPC in June 2010 and signed two deals to make prepayments for oil cargoes with SNPC worth $125 million and $500 million in July 2011. The firm also received Ivory Coast oil cargoes between 2009 and 2010.
The bribe recipients, according to the plea deal, included Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, his family members and former senior Ivory Coast government officials. The Congo government denied the allegations.
In a recent interview, Gunvor Chief Executive Torbjorn Tornqvist said the process "was very painful ... I promised my employees, stakeholders and my family that we will never find ourselves in this position again".
Swiss prosecutors said Gunvor had no code of conduct, compliance or sufficient oversight at the time. The firm has since built up a compliance scheme and reduced the number of intermediaries and agents it uses to secure deals by a third.
The settlement amounts to about 3% of total trading profit for the firm between 2009-2011, Gunvor said. It had put aside funds last year in case of a financial settlement with Swiss authorities.
Gunvor today conducts only 4% of its business within African countries, and has no business in Congo Republic.
$1 = 0.9916 Swiss francs Additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa in Berlin Editing by Michael Shields, Nick Macfie and David Evans