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Antitrust: EC confirms unannounced inspections in biofuel sector

The European Commission can confirm that on 7 October 2014, Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of companies active in the production, distribution and trading of ethanol, a biofuel. These inspections took place in two EU Member States. They follow inspections that the Commission and the EFTA Surveillance Authority undertook in May 2013 in the crude oil, refined oil products and biofuel sectors (seeMEMO/13/435). The Commission has concerns that price benchmarks may have been distorted through anti-competitive behaviour, including through possible collusion when submitting price information to a Price Reporting Agency. Such behaviour, if established, may amount to violations of European antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and abuses of a dominant market position (Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and Articles 53 and 54 of the EEA Agreement).

The prices assessed and published by Price Reporting Agencies serve as benchmarks for trade in the physical markets and in the financial derivative markets for a number of commodity products in Europe and globally. The importance of these benchmarks and the absence of regulation may leave scope for anti-competitive behaviour leading to price distortions. Even small distortions may have a significant impact on prices, potentially harming consumers.

Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step to investigations into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings. The Commission does not make public the names of the companies inspected at this stage.

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conductTheir duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence

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