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According to a report by the Associated Press, the European Commission, executive arm of the European Union (EU), raided offices of the oil and gas companies earlier this week. The raid at Statoil's headquarters in Norway, which is not an EU member, was carried out with the assistance of Norwegian antitrust officials.
London-based Platts, an oil price reporting agency, is also reportedly under investigation.
"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 European Commission said in a statement released yesterday. It did not identify the companies under investigation, but did express concerns that the companies in question "may have colluded in reporting distorted prices," which determine the market cost of certain energy products in Europe and worldwide.
"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 continued.
BP, Shell, Statoil and Platts identified themselves as targets of the inquiry, with BP and Shell adding that they are cooperating with authorities.
"We are cooperating fully with the investigation and are unable to comment further at this time," BP said in a statement.
The European Commission said it is also investigating whether the targeted companies may have "prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices." It added that while EU antitrust officials are permitted to perform unannounced inspections of a company's offices as a preliminary step in an investigation, this does not mean the companies are guilty of any wrongdoing.
There is no current deadline for completion of the European Commission's investigation, according to the AP report.