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EU probes oil companies for possible price-fixing

Kenyan Deputy President William Rucentre awaits start hearing courtroom International Criminal Court (ICC) The Hague Netherlands Tuesday May 14 2013.

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, centre, awaits the start of a hearing in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and broadcastor Joshua Arap Sang appeared at the ICC for a hearing to discuss progress in preparations for their crimes against humanity trial for allegedly orchestrating violence in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections. Judges are expected to set a new date for the trial to start after the hearing. (AP Photo/Lex van Lieshout, Pool)

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LONDON (AP) — European anti-trust authorities have launched investigations into at least three oil companies on suspicion of price-fixing.

Britain’s BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Norway’s Statoil confirmed they are subject to the inquiry announced Tuesday by the European Union’s executive arm, the Commission.

Statoil said a raid at its headquarters in Stavanger, Norway, was carried out with the assistance of Norwegian antitrust officials. Norway is not a member of the EU. BP and Shell offered no details, but said they were cooperating with authorities.

Platts, which compiles prices for energy markets, said the Commission also visited its London operations on Tuesday. Platts is a division of McGraw Hill Financial.

“Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several companies active in and providing services to the crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels sectors,” the Commission said in a statement Tuesday. It did not identify the companies involved.

The Commission said it had concerns that oil companies “may have colluded in reporting distorted prices.” Such prices are used to determine the market cost of several energy products in Europe and globally.

“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,” the Commission said.

The Commission said it was investigating whether the companies may also have “prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices.”

EU antitrust officials can make unannounced inspections of a company’s offices as a preliminary step in an investigation. Such probes do not mean the companies are guilty of any wrong-doing, the Commission said.

There is no deadline for the completion of the investigation.

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