THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Exxon, Shell in Price-Fixing Probe: “The European Commission placed the Dutch units of Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch/Shell Group under suspicion of violating competition rules” (ShellNews.net)
EU Suspects Violations Of Rules on Competition In Dutch Bitumen Market
By CHIP CUMMINS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
October 22, 2004; Page A12
LONDON -- The European Commission placed the Dutch units of Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch/Shell Group under suspicion of violating competition rules, as part of a two-year probe into possible price fixing in the Dutch bitumen market.
A spokesman for Shell Netherlands declined to comment on specifics of the situation or on specific actions by the company that are under investigation by the commission. An Exxon spokesman declined to comment except to acknowledge the company received the commission's provisional conclusions of the investigation. Bitumen is a tarlike petroleum product used in making roads.
"The commission suspects that Shell and 13 other companies violated competition rules by coordinating their activities in the bitumen market in the Netherlands up until 2002," the Shell spokesman said.
European Commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres declined to name the other firms in the probe, according to Reuters, except to say that the companies concerned operate in the Netherlands.
The companies have two months to respond to the findings, called a "statement of objections." If the commission finds wrongdoing, it could impose fines.
The commission started its investigation in 2002, initially investigating suspicions of price fixing in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain. In October 2002, the commission's antitrust-enforcement staff made unannounced inspections of several companies' facilities. The companies included Shell and Exxon.
"Shell acknowledges that it was present at a number of meetings with road builders and bitumen suppliers. We have declared details of these meetings to the commission last year," the spokesman said.
In a statement, Shell Netherlands Country Chairman Rein Willems said, "we should not have been present in these meetings and we regret our involvement in this case."
Shell 's operating units jointly are owned by Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. of The Hague and London-based Shell Transport & Trading Co.
Exxon on yesterday referred all questions to its Dutch unit. A representative there declined to comment except to say it also had received a statement of objections from the commission. "We are studying it now," he said.
Write to Chip Cummins at email@example.com