Glencore's billionaire copper chief retires under legal pressure

Glencore JSE:GLN] has announced the retirement of billionaire Aristotelis Mistakidis, its embattled head of copper trading and one of the company’s biggest shareholders.

Mistakidis’s departure marks the end of an era. The 56-year-old executive is one of the world’s most powerful commodities traders and built Glencore’s reputation as a dominant force in copper. But he’s come under intense pressure recently following a string of investigations, problems and legal headaches.

The US Department of Justice is probing Glencore’s dealings in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. Canadian regulators are also investigating accounting irregularities at copper mines where Mistakidis was a director.

The company made the announcement on Monday in a statement that included a broader leadership shake-up, including changes at its coal, ferroalloys trading and mining divisions.

Nico Paraskevas will take on the role of head of copper trading. The executive has spent 12 years with Glencore and helped lead the sale of Las Bambas copper mine in Peru.

Trading forecast

Glencore also revised its forecast for 2018 core profit in the trading division to $2.7bn, plus or minus $100m. Previously, Glencore expected full-year earnings from trading to be at the top end of its $2.2bn to $3.2bn range.

In a Bloomberg News profile of Mistakidis in October, his current and former colleagues, clients and competitors described him as the archetypal trader: ebullient and charming, but a sharp and ruthless negotiator. He speaks five languages and is an avid skier.

Glencore has faced intense criticism over its copper business in Congo. Last year, Mistakidis resigned from the board of Katanga Mining, the unit through which Glencore holds its Congolese copper assets, after an internal review found "material weaknesses" in its accounting.

Katanga overstated its copper output and inventories, and in some cases senior management and executive directors were responsible for "overriding the company’s control processes," the review found. Katanga is the subject of an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission over whether its misled investors.

Other leadership changes announced today:

  • Peter Freyberg appointed as head of industrial mining assets. It’s a new position with responsibility for all of Glencore’s industrial mining.
  • Gary Nagle named head of coal assets. 
  • Japie Fullard named head of ferroalloys assets. Stuart Cutler to retire as head of ferroalloys marketing at the end of the year.
  • Jason Kluk and  Ruan Van Schalkwyk appointed as joint heads of ferroalloys marketing.

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