Geneva, oil at any price

Uncovering the business of oil trading, the documentary investigates the link between Swiss companies and the ruling family of Congo Brazzaville. When ruthless companies are let loose by supervisory authorities, corrupting forces take over.

  • Roland CHAUVILLE
  • Roland CHAUVILLE
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Genève, du pétrole à tout prix
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Investigation, Current affairs
  • Runtime:
    52 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 9, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    142,000 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Congo, Switzerland
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Broadcasting on Swiss TV 'RTS1 - Radio Télévision Suisse'

    June 9, 2021
Distribution Information
  • RTS - Radio Télévision Suisse
    Sales Agent
    Country: Switzerland
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Tay BLYTH-KUBOTA, Roland CHAUVILLE

Scottish and Japanese, Tay is a Lausanne-based filmmaker specialising in cinematography with a background in Human Rights and Humanitarian Work. He has held consultancies, and produced (pre-production to post-production) films and communication material for numerous international organisations. He has additionally filmed and edited for national and international broadcasters. He graduated from the London Film School, and the University of Cambridge.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

"There is the corrupt and the corrupter, we must never forget that." This sentence, uttered by Agathe Duparc, investigator at Swiss Non-profit Public Eye, during a discussion, struck us by its simplicity and by the way it perfectly summarized the reason we are making this documentary. In the media, corruption is generally discussed on the side of the corrupt, these extremely wealthy leaders of developing countries. The individuals and entities who, upstream of the corrupting event, allow this corruption to take place are never mentioned.
Also, Geneva readily presents itself as the world capital of peace, diplomacy and human rights, but in fact it is also the trading capital hosting more than 400 companies, where a third of the world's oil and 70% of the gold are traded. However, this facet is mostly unknown to the general public.
We wanted to go deeper into these themes by addressing a multitude of questions:
To what extent is the Gunvor case, namely the use of bribery of a foreign leader to gain market share, indicative of the business model of trading companies? Was the employee just a black sheep acting out of the rules?
To what extent are companies just adjusting to a flawed international system, or are they causing the problems?
Is it possible to trade with corrupt countries without resorting to corruption? Could we not deal with corrupt countries while our societies cannot do without oil?
Is Switzerland an accomplice of these companies which act in this way abroad or is it simply turning a blind eye? What is its share of responsibility?
To what extent have the regulations put in place so far mitigated deviant practices? Are these regulations sufficient? How come such a severe case of corruption as Gunvor could have happened?
We are well positioned to tell this story because we work at the intersection of cinema and the international sphere. Roland Chauville headed for ten years a non-governmental human rights organization in Geneva. His job was to teach NGOs how to use the United Nations to improve human rights. On this occasion, he developed a good knowledge of the human rights situation in Congo and forged a friendship with Moke Loamba, human rights defender in Congo. During all these years, Roland saw that the focus was on states but that companies were rarely held responsible for human rights violations. This observation prompted him to take an interest in the activities of Swiss companies abroad and it was through this that he discovered the existence of Gunvor and the corruption facts in Congo. This discovery shocked him deeply and made him uncomfortable towards his friend Moke that a company in his town was corrupting the leaders of the Congo, and thus had an impact on Moke's life. In addition, having lived in Geneva for 14 years, he was surprised to find that he knew very little about his city and this trading sector and its activities abroad. His motivation for making this film stems from the fact that this Gunvor case has received very little attention and that these companies enjoy great anonymity despite their size and impact around the world.
Tay Blyth-Kubota is a professional filmmaker who has toured extensively for NGOs, whether it is to retrace the journey and struggle of a human rights defender or to highlight the work of an organization.
We are interested in this subject precisely because of our background, but we are not activists. We want to examine the facts and escape the confines of an empty dichotomy that trading companies are seen as "bad" or unethical. We do not want to pit business on the one hand and human rights on the other.
In particular, we were compelled to tell that story by the following elements:
1 / Our thirst and our curiosity were sharpened by the obstacles encountered in knowing more about trading companies and their practices. We have been frustrated by the opacity of this industry and the disqualifications for the "complexity" of the field, an excuse put forward to keep the curious out.
2 / The death of Congolese activist Moke Loamba. This loss hit us hard and made the making of this documentary even more necessary. This has increased our desire to tell the real and tangible ravages of corruption, which can thus rob a man with a life expectancy of several years because of a failing health system (Congo is 154th in the world, the average life expectancy is 64.3 years old) especially compared to an inhabitant of a developed country, with a sophisticated health system, like the one from which Switzerland benefits (5th worldwide, 83.4 years).
We live in politically troubled times. This documentary addresses questions of our time. Whether it's about the importance of a strong national health system that can only be funded with sufficient public tax revenues, or whether inequality and corruption lead to death, or how the international trade system works. We believe this film grapples with a significant number of pressing issues today. The recent guilty verdict against Gunvor in October 2019, and the current procedure still pending against a second employee (after the first employee was convicted of corruption in August 2018) make the Gunvor case a hot topic and the timing seems opportune. We want to further open the debate on the functioning of commodity trading companies and create opportunities for discussion.
However, this story is also worth telling because of its entertainment potential. The people involved, the events and the way in which the corruption was set up by Gunvor are as devious as any detective story. This nebulous story is rich in twists and turns and features international protagonists such as the Chinese mafia, Russian oligarchs, billionaires, as well as presidents, such as Putin and the President of the Republic of Congo and his family. The documentary thus touches on many themes such as inequalities, corruption, international politics, oil and human rights and will arouse the interest and curiosity of as many people as possible.

We wanted to show an aspect of the oil trade, in particular as carried out by Swiss companies and the consequences of corruption in resource rich countries like Congo. We wanted to question the status quo and this unbalanced situation that we tend to take for a fait accompli when it is the result of choices and actions. The film is also intended to pay tribute to Congolese nationals who are fighting to change this unjust situation and improve the lives of their fellow citizens. This is our modest contribution.