October 16, 2014 / 5:47 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Belgian, Swedish ethanol producers targeted in EU antitrust raids

(Adds Alcogroup could not be reached, details)

By Foo Yun Chee and Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Belgian ethanol producer Alcogroup and Swedish peer Lantmannen Agroetanol were raided by European Union antitrust regulators last week as they widened a 17 month long investigation into suspected rigging of oil and biofuels price benchmarks.

Regulators have in recent years cracked down on alleged price-fixing across a series of benchmarks in the financial, energy and commodities markets where even a small distortion can have a major impact on prices.

The European Commission announced the raids last week but did not name the companies targeted. The action followed raids of Shell, BP, Statoil, Argos Energies and Spain’s Abengoa in May 2013.

The Commission said it was possible Alcogroup and/or its subsidiaries Alcodis and Alco Bio Fuel colluded with other firms to manipulate ethanol prices submitted to oil pricing agency Platts, according to a Commission document seen by Reuters.

This collusion could be intended “to move the reference value in a certain direction”, the French-language document said, with regulators suspecting the ethanol reference price manipulation dated from 2007 until now.

No one could be reached at either Alcogroup or its subsidiaries despite repeated telephone calls.

Lantmannen Agroetanol, owned by 33,500 Swedish farmers and the country’s sole large-scale grain-based fuel ethanol producer and supplier, confirmed in a statement that its Norrkoping office was raided last week.

The Commission said Platts, part of McGraw Hill Financials Inc, may also be guilty of wrongdoing.

Platts’ price assessment process is used to close deals worth billions of dollars. The so-called Platts window or market-on-close (MOC) system is a daily half-hour period in which the agency determines cash prices through a series of bids, offers and trades.

“The Commission has indications that Platts may have prevented one or several companies from taking part in the process of price estimation under the MOC method and particularly from adhering to the window,” the document said.

“The Commission suspects Platts of having adopted this behavior either independently, or in agreement with Alcogroup and/or its subsidiaries ... and/or with other companies.”

Platts had no immediate comment.

Thomson Reuters, parent of Reuters news, competes with Platts in providing news and information to the oil market. (Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti, Adrian Crofts and Simon Falush in London; Editing by David Clarke and Mark Potter)

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