EU Starts Second Antitrust Probe With Raids on Bioethanol Firms

The European Union started a second antitrust probe into pricing of bioethanol, adding to an earlier case into possible rigging of fuel-price benchmarks.

The European Commission said its officials inspected companies active in the “production or trading of bioethanol” on suspicions they violated EU competition rules. Last month’s raids took place about the same time as another surprise visit in the benchmarks case.

“The investigation should clarify the facts concerning the possible participation by producers or traders of bioethanol in agreements or concerted practices aimed at fixing prices or sharing markets and customers,” commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said in an e-mail.

The case adds pressure on an industry already embroiled in the EU’s probe into manipulation of fuel-price benchmarks, including bioethanol. That probe was made public in May 2013 after EU officials inspected oil-price publisher Platts, BP Plc, Statoil ASA, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Argos Energies and Abengoa SA. The benchmark-rigging raids echoed probes into traders conspiring to fix the London Interbank Offered Rate and foreign exchange markets.

In the latest raids, the commission also carried out an unannounced inspection in Spain at the premises of a company active in the production, distribution and trading of ethanol as part of the benchmarks probe, Cardoso said.

A unit of Seville, Spain-based Abengoa -- the owner of continental Europe’s biggest bioethanol plant -- was among the sites inspected in March by commission investigators, two people familiar with the matter said this month. Tereos SA’s premises were also raided, another person said.

Abengoa said earlier this month that it’s cooperating with the commission, without confirming fresh raids had taken place. It said it was confident that its units had complied with competition law.

Abengoa and Tereos, based in Lille, France, didn’t immediately reply to further e-mail requests for comment on Monday.

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