Linklaters, Clifford Chance power up for oil majors investigation

Magic circle firms Linklaters and Clifford Chance have been instructed by two of the oil majors that faced dawn raids by the European Commission this week.

BP and Shell were two of four companies raided by EC officials this week as part of an investigation relating to the price of oil, refined products and biofuels. Norway’s Statoil and oil price reporting agency Platts are the other two known to be under investigation.

BP, which is understood to have instructed Linklaters, said in a statement that it was, “co-operating fully with the investigation” but was “unable to comment further at this time”.

Shell, which has instructed Clifford Chance’s global competition head Oliver Bretz and London-based competition partner Alastair Mordaunt, also confirmed its involvement in a statement, saying, “we can confirm that Shell companies are currently assisting the European commission in an inquiry into trading activities”.

In a statement the commission said it had concerns that the companies may have, “colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency (PRA) to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products”.

Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers, the commission added.

“Any 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,” it continued.

One competition lawyer said that while nothing has been proved as yet, any sanctions against the companies could be devastating, with several claiming this investigation could be “bigger than Libor”.

A partner at a US firm suggested that the investigation was likely to have been kicked off by a whistle blower, gaining that party 100 per cent immunity from sanctions.

“The job for the legal teams over the next few weeks will be to decide whether to defend the claims or cooperate,” said the partner. “Speed will be of the essence because the second company in, as it were, can reduce sanctions by between 30 per cent and 50 per cent if they provide significant added value to the investigation.”