EU raids ethanol companies over price-fixing concerns

Brussels | Reuters — The European Commission has raided ethanol companies in two EU countries as part of investigations into alleged price-fixing.

The Commission, which acts as the competition watchdog in the 28-member European Union, said Thursday it had concerns that companies may have colluded in submitting price information used to set industry benchmarks for trading in Europe and globally.

“The importance of these benchmarks and the absence of regulation may leave scope for anti-competitive behaviour leading to price distortions,” the Commission said in a statement.

“Even small distortions may have a significant impact on prices, potentially harming consumers,” it said.

It did not specify the two countries in which the raids had been carried out on Tuesday and did not say what companies were involved.

The Commission said its raids followed inspections in May 2013 of the offices of oil majors Shell, BP and Statoil as part of a probe into suspected manipulation of oil and biofuel prices.

No one from Statoil was immediately available for comment, while BP and Shell said their offices had not been raided in the Commission’s latest inspections.

The Commission said in May it was investigating the companies in relation to their submission of prices to Platts, the world’s leading oil pricing agency and part of McGraw Hill Financial.

The Commission said it would not make public at this stage the names of the companies visited in the latest raids and said the fact that a company had been raided did not mean it was guilty of anti-competitive behaviour.

Authorities have sharply raised scrutiny of financial benchmarks around the world since slapping large fines on some of the world’s biggest banks for rigging two interest rate benchmarks, Libor and Euribor.

— Philip Blenkinsop is a senior Reuters correspondent based in Brussels. Additional reporting for Reuters by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo.

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