European officials launch oil-price probe

Officials of the European Commission and European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority made unannounced inspections at offices of BP, Shell, Statoil, and Platts in a step the EC described as “a preliminary step to investigate suspected anticompetitive practices.”

The EC didn’t name the companies in an announcement of the May 14 move, but the companies confirmed they had been targeted.

“The commission has concerns that the companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price-reporting agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products,” the announcement said. “Furthermore, the commission has concerns that the companies may have prevented others from participating in the price-assessment process with a view to distorting published prices.”

The EC pointed out that that prices published by price reporting agencies, such as Platts, serve as benchmarks in physical and financial trading of oil and oil products.

“Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products, and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers,” it said.

It said it faces no legal deadline in completing its inquiry.

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