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EU Plans to Wrap Up Oil-Benchmarks Probe as Quickly as Possible

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- European Union regulators aim to finish their antitrust probe into alleged manipulation of oil prices by companies from BP Plc to Royal Dutch Shell Plc “as quickly as possible,” the bloc’s antitrust chief said.

The length of the investigation “depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned cooperate with the commission and the exercise of the rights of defense,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a written response to a European Parliament lawmaker.

Antitrust authorities raided the offices of price publisher Platts, Statoil ASA, BP, Shell and Argos Energies in May to gather evidence of possible collusion, according to the companies. Regulatory probes are expanding after banks rigged the London interbank offered rate, a benchmark for $300 trillion of global interest-rate contracts.

The EU probe into the markets for crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels is “at an early stage,” Almunia said in the same document dated July 23 and published on the bloc’s website today.

The Brussels-based EU regulator is “currently analyzing the information gathered from the undertakings concerned, which includes the companies that were subject to the commission’s unannounced inspections and numerous companies that were addressees of requests for information,” Almunia said. “It is therefore too early to draw conclusions about the findings of the investigation.”

Traders including Glencore Xstrata Plc, Vitol Group and Gunvor Group Ltd. in May were asked to give information to the EU, though they aren’t being investigated, according to three people familiar with the situation.

“The present investigation is a concrete step taken at EU level which could contribute to tackling the causes of high fuel prices in the EU,” Almunia said.

Almunia has said the suspected oil-price manipulation may have caused “huge” damage for consumers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at sbodoni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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