Copper granules. (Photo by Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images)
  • A Swiss trading house bought R545 million worth of copper and received painted rocks instead.
  • The goods were secretly unloaded at night and replaced with stones that resembled semi-refined metal.
  • As a victim of cargo fraud, Mercuria Energy is seeking detective action against its Turkish copper supplier.
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Swiss trading house Mercuria Energy ordered R545 million worth of copper last summer, but received instead a consignment of painted rocks from its Turkish supplier.

Mercuria, one of the five biggest oil traders in the world, has declared a case of cargo fraud after finding containers that arrived in a Chinese port were not the 10,000 tons of the impure form of copper it paid for, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Eight vessels were loaded with about 6,000 tonnes of copper blister in some 300 containers before the shipment's journey began from Istanbul to China. Seals were also installed to prevent potential fraud.

But before it could be out on its way, the copper was replaced with spray-painted jagged paving stones that resembled the rough look of the metal. This underhanded action secretly took place at night, Bloomberg said, citing a lawyer for Mercuria in Turkey. The unusual incident took place despite security and inspection protocols.

The trading house paid R545 million over five installments while the vessels were at sea. Its last transaction took place on August 20, 2020. The trickery was only discovered later that month.

Mercuria is reportedly seeking remedies by filing a case for cargo substitution and insurance fraud against its Turkish copper supplier, Bietsan Bakir. Both firms are said to have conducted business with one another before.

The Swiss trader has approached both Turkish and UK courts for help, while Turkish police have already conducted raids and taken 13 people into custody in relation to the case.

"Suspects have been taken under custody who are thought to be involved in the various parts of this organized crime against Mercuria," the trading house said in a statement seen by Bloomberg.

Some of the suspects have been permitted to leave custody and are instead under house arrest.

Mercuria and Bietsan Bakir didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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