EU Expands Energy Benchmark Probe With Ethanol Raids

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European Union antitrust regulators conducted fresh raids on ethanol companies, escalating a probe into the possible rigging of fuel-price benchmarks begun two years ago, three people familiar with the case said.

An Abengoa SA unit was among the sites inspected by European Commission investigators, said two of the people who declined to be identified because the matter is private. Tereos SA’s premises were also raided, the other person said. The unannounced inspections began on March 24, they said.

The surprise visits add pressure on the ethanol industry after an earlier round of raids last year targeted Swedish producer Lantmaennen Agroetanol AB and Alcogroup’s Alcodis unit. The probe was first made public in May 2013 after EU officials inspected oil-price publisher Platts, BP Plc, Statoil ASA, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Argos Energies. All of the companies have denied violations of antitrust rules.

In the wake of an international probe of banks that rigged the London Interbank Offered Rate, the EU said that providers of market data for oil and biofuels may also have colluded when they reported prices used to establish benchmarks for global fuel sales.

Regulators said that even small distortions of prices used as benchmarks for commodities and derivatives may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales that may have been passed on to final customers. Officials said at the time there was no deadline for the investigation.

Fresh Raids

Abengoa, owner of continental Europe’s biggest bioethanol plant, was also raided two years ago. Patricia Malo de Molina, a spokeswoman for Abengoa, said the Seville, Spain-based company is “actively cooperating” with the commission in its investigations into the ethanol market, without confirming fresh raids had taken place.

“The company has been inspected as part of the preliminary investigations, but is not facing formal charges,” Malo de Molina said by e-mail. “Abengoa is confident that every company in its group has complied with the competition rules at all times.”

Tereos representatives in Lille, France, didn’t reply to requests for comment. Commission representatives in Brussels declined to comment.

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