NYMEX traders allege big firms manipulated Brent oil prices

Wed Nov 6, 2013 1:32pm EST
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By Claire Milhench

LONDON (Reuters) - Four NYMEX traders have alleged that the North Sea Brent crude oil market has been manipulated by oil majors and trading houses since at least 2002, in a class action they brought in the wake of a wide ranging European Commission inquiry.

Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Statoil, Morgan Stanley, Trafigura Beheer, Trafigura, Phibro Trading and Vitol are named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in a Manhattan court in October.

In the filing, the plaintiffs allege that traders at these companies combined to manipulate Brent crude oil prices and Brent futures contracts traded on NYMEX, citing periods in February 2011 and September 2012.

Morgan Stanley, Trafigura, BP, Shell and Vitol declined to comment. A Statoil spokesman said it was not uncommon to see private U.S. lawsuits filed following investigations by government agencies. A spokesman for Phibro said the firm had not been a target of or involved in the European inquiry, nor had it been served with the lawsuit.

"Any claims that Phibro was involved in the activities being investigated by the commission are totally without merit and Phibro will vigorously defend itself," he said.

In May, the European Commission launched an inquiry into suspected anti-competitive agreements relating to the submission of prices to Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill, which operates an energy information and global price reporting service.

Shortly after this, Chicago-based commodities trading firm Prime International Trading Ltd filed a lawsuit against BP, Shell and Statoil, alleging collusion to fix oil prices. The companies did not respond at the time to requests for comment.

The European Commission's inquiry has yet to reach any conclusions.   Continued...

A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor