BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Spanish ethanol producer Abengoa and Belgium peer Alcogroup have been charged by European Union antitrust regulators with rigging ethanol benchmarks and are likely to face fines next year, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The move by the European Commission followed a near three-year long investigation on concerns that the two and Swedish company Lantmannen may have colluded to manipulate ethanol benchmarks, which are published by energy and commodities information provider S&P Global Platts.
The EU competition enforcer sent statement of objections to the companies in late July, the people said. These charge sheets typically set out the regulator’s concerns about anti-competitive behavior.
Abengoa and Alcogroup are seeking to settle the case, the sources said. Under such a procedure, companies admit wrongdoing in return for a 10 percent cut in a fine. EU sanctions can be as much as 10 percent of a company’s global turnover.
Lantmannen said it was in settlement talks with the Commission, declining further comment. The company has not yet received a charge sheet, the people said.
The Commission confirmed that it had sent statements of objections to companies in the case but declined to provide details.
“Settlement discussions are confidential according to our rules, so we cannot comment or speculate on this,” spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said in an email.
Abengoa and Platts did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Platts said at the time the EU launched its inquiry that it had not been charged with any wrongdoing.
A spokeswoman for Alcogroup said she was not immediately in a position to comment.
Ethanol is an alcohol made from biomass such as wheat, maize or sugar beet which is mainly added to gasoline and used as a biofuel for certain motor vehicles.
The EU narrowed the scope of its case in December 2015 after it dropped Shell, BP, and Statoil from the investigation.
The Commission has in recent years gone after banks for rigging benchmark interest rates, handing down hefty fines. It is now looking into manipulation of foreign exchange rates and in July charged Credit Suisse with the offense.
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Jane Merriman and David Stamp