Mercuria, Hess JV added to U.S. lawsuit over oil pricing

NEW YORK, April 29 Tue Apr 29, 2014 5:48pm EDT

NEW YORK, April 29 (Reuters) - Two new defendants, Mercuria Energy Trading SA and Hess Energy Trading Co, have been added to a lawsuit accusing BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and several other companies of conspiring to manipulate Brent crude oil prices.

In an amended complaint filed late Monday night in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where 14 lawsuits have been combined, the defendants were accused of having monopolized and conspired since 2002 to fix the Brent crude market.

The plaintiffs, including several individuals and firms that traded the oil, accused the defendants of deliberately reporting inaccurate or false prices, "spoof" orders and transactions with "aberrant" pricing, as well as conducting illegal "wash sales" designed to affect prices without exposing participants to market risk.

Brent crude is a North Sea oil benchmark used for roughly two-thirds of the world's internationally traded crude oil supplies, and is used to set prices for such things as gasoline and heating oil.

Mercuria is a unit of Switzerland-based Mercuria Energy Group Ltd, which agreed on March 19 to buy JPMorgan Chase & Co's physical commodities business for $3.5 billion.

Hess Energy Trading is also known as Hetco, and is a joint venture between Hess Corp, which holds a 50 percent stake, and former Goldman Sachs partners Stephen Hendel and Stephen Semlitz.

In March 2013, Hess said it would divest Hetco as part of a plan to shed retail, trading and other businesses and focus on exploration and production.

Mercuria did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Patrick Scanlan, an outside spokesman for Hetco, declined to comment.

Among the other defendants previously alleged to have been involved in price manipulation were Statoil ASA, Morgan Stanley and the energy trading firm Vitol SA.

The case is In re: North Sea Brent Crude Oil Futures Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-md-02475. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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