Could this be the oil industry's Libor?

Shell, BP, Statoil and pricing agency Platts investigated for price manipulation.

The offices of several European oil companies, including Shell, BP, Statoil and pricing agency Platts, were yesterday raided by investigators from the European Commission, who are looking into the potential price manipulation of oil, refined products and biofuel, dating back more than a decade.

A Commission statement confirmed they were examining the possibility that; “the companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products."

"Furthermore, the commission has concerns that the companies may have prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices," it said.

It also made clear that although investigations were ongoing, it did not mean the companies involved are guilty of any wrongdoing.

The four companies all confirmed that the Commission had made what it called “unannounced inspections” yesterday, and that each was cooperating fully with both EU and national anti-competition authorities over the matter, with Statoil adding the suspected collusion could go back as far as 2002.

Even slight distortions in the assessed prices of oil products can have a massive impact on the price end-users pay. Echoing the recent Libor rigging scandal, which saw Barclays and UBS heavily fined by UK and US authorities over the fixing of the London Interbank Offered Rate, this investigation is the latest in a series of such probes around the world, signalling increased scrutiny on financial benchmarks across a range of markets.

If the allegations are proven to be true, it could prove to be another PR disaster for Britain’s beleaguered oil companies, particularly BP, whose reputation, and balance sheet, has not yet fully recovered from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010; recently receiving a record $17.6 billion fine in the US, having already spent billions on the clean-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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