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Oil Firms Dropped From EU Probe Into Fuel-Price Manipulation

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By Aoife White: December 7, 2015

  • Crude oil sector no longer under investigation in case

  • EU steps up case focusing on ethanol benchmarks rigging

Oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and Statoil ASA, no longer face a European Union investigation into potential manipulation of crude oil benchmarks.

The European Commission “is currently not investigating further behaviors in price benchmarks for the crude oil sector,” Ricardo Cardoso, a spokesman for regulator said in an e-mail. He said the EU’s current probe focuses “on price benchmarks for the ethanol sector.”

Raids on Shell, BP, Statoil and price publisher Platts in May 2013 over suspected benchmark-rigging echoed probes into banks for trying to fix the London Interbank Offered Rate and foreign exchange markets. EU antitrust regulators levied 1.7 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in fines later that year over Libor manipulation.

The EU is now focusing on ethanol benchmarks, opening a formal investigation on Monday into suspicions Abengoa SA colluded with Alcogroup and Lantmaennen. The trio may have agreed to submit or support bids to push benchmarks up and increase ethanol prices as a result, the commission said in a statement.

Closing the crude oil part of the case removes the risk of possible fines for companies involved.

Spokesmen at Shell and Statoil didn’t immediately reply to e-mails seeking comments. BP declined to comment.

Abengoa “continues to cooperate actively with the European Commission in its ongoing investigations into the ethanol market,” according to an e-mailed statement. “Abengoa remains confident that every company in its group has complied with the competition rules at all times.”

It’s the second time in less than a week the EU has called time on a high-profile antitrust probe. More than a dozen banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will escape fines after the EU said Friday it dropped a four-year investigation into suspicions they conspired to shut exchanges out of the credit-default swaps market.

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