* First formal meeting of group probing possible fraud
* Attorney General Holder to make opening remarks
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - An Obama administration panel set up to investigate possible fraud and manipulation in the energy markets will meet for the first time on Monday as prices at the gasoline pumps soar and pressure for action mounts.
The group will convene at the U.S. Justice Department at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT), and Attorney General Eric Holder will make opening remarks before members go behind closed doors to begin their work, the department said.
The national price for regular unleaded gasoline rose 3.5 cents to $3.88 in the week through Monday, increasing pressure on Obama just as his presidential re-election bid gets underway.
The group will look into whether there were any illicit activities in the energy markets. This week Holder told reporters that he saw some “disturbing” things but declined to say what were his specific concerns.
Previous administrations have created task forces to investigate possible manipulation and fraud in the energy markets, but none has resulted in any significant cases or charges.
“Clearly gas prices rise and fall, there are market factors that are always I think a part of that,” Holder told reporters on Tuesday. “The question is whether or not it’s something beyond that, and that’s why the task force was formed.”
The group, announced a week ago, includes representatives from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Justice and Treasury.
Part of the administration’s broader Financial Fraud Task Force, it will focus on any manipulation of oil and gas prices, collusion, fraud or other violations of state and federal laws, among other things. (Editing by Xavier Briand)