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Petrol price rigging inquiry contacts oil traders

Glencore and Vitol among those receiving 'request for information' as part of cross-border investigation

Glencore and other big oil trading companies have been asked to provide information to the cross-border investigation into alleged petrol price rigging. There is no suggestion that these companies are being investigated.

European commission officials have asked the trading houses to answer questions related to allegations that oil companies have colluded to manipulate the price of oil and petrol for more than a decade.

Glencore, the Swiss-based commodity trader that is one of the biggest companies in the FTSE 100, and Vitol, the world's largest oil trader, are among those known to have been contacted by the commission. Glencore had previously sought to play down any links to the oil price fixing probe.

Glencore – founded by Marc Rich, a commodities trader best known for being charged by US authorities with selling oil to Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis - declined to comment on the record. A source close to the company said the "request for information" letter from the commission's investigators had been sent to "every man and his dog" in the oil industry and was no indication of any wrongdoing.

A spokeswoman for Vitol said: "Vitol, along with other market participants, has received a request for information from the European commission. There is no suggestion that Vitol is under investigation."

Trafigura, the world's third-largest oil trader, which hit the headlines for dumping toxic oil waste in the Ivory Coast in 2006, said the company was not aware whether or not it had received the letter from the commission.

Other oil traders, including Gunvor and Mercuria, were reported as also receiving the letter. They either declined to comment or could not be reached.

The commission declined to comment on the progress of its investigation, which was launched last week with dawn raids on the London offices of BP, Shell and oil price reporting agency Platts. Norwegian oil company Statoil was also raided. The companies said they are helping investigators with their inquiry.

David Cameron has warned that anyone found guilty of the "hugely concerning allegations" will face the full force of the law. The prime minister said the allegations were "very, very serious" and major consequences would follow as he pledged to ensure that laws passed after the Libor scandal would apply to oil price fixing in the future.

"It's totally unacceptable for firms to fix prices and force consumers to pay more. That's why we are looking at how to extend this criminal offence to the energy sector to make sure that those who manipulate benchmark prices feel the full force of the law," he said last week.

The Serious Fraud Office is considering launching a criminal inquiry into the alleged price fixing, which European investigators said could have been going on since 2002 and could have had a huge impact on the price of petrol at the pumps "potentially harming final customers".

The price of petrol has risen by more than 80% since 2002 to about 135p a litre.

The commission said the big oil companies may have "prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices".

It added: "Any such behaviour, if established, may amount to violations of European antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and abuses of a dominant market position.

"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."

Luke Bosdet, of the AA, said British motorists would be relieved that the "lid is finally being lifted off the dark and murky world of oil pricing".

"Because prices are set in secret, drivers and consumers have no idea whether or not the price they pay at the pumps is a fair reflection of the wholesale price."

OilCommoditiesOil and gas companiesEnergy industryGlencoreEuropean commissionEuropean UnionEuropeRupert © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Published: 20/05/2013

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Last updated 18/05/2013

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