July 1, 2019 / 11:56 AM / 5 months ago

Engie and Eni searched by French watchdog in anti-competition probe

FILE PHOTO: The logo of French gas and power group Engie is seen on the company tower at La Defense business and financial district in Courbevoie, near Paris, France. May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s consumer fraud watchdog said on Monday it had carried out raids at the premises of 13 energy firms in the French retail electricity and gas market, as part of an investigation into possible anti-competitive practices.

The DGCCRF regulator, an arm of the finance ministry, said two energy firms and 11 subcontracting companies were searched during a simultaneous raids on June 23. It did not give the names of the companies involved.

Engie confirmed that the watchdog was investigating it, and added it would co-operate in the inquiry.

A source close to the investigation said Italy’s Eni was the second energy firm targeted by the investigation. Eni had no immediate comment to make.

The DGCCRF said it had been receiving reports over several months about misleading ploys by retailers who are signing up clients and getting them to switch energy providers without proper consent.

“Contracts for the supply of electricity and gas were concluded and signed without having obtained an informed agreement from consumers,” the watchdog said.

If found guilty, the firms face a penalty of up to 10 percent of their annual revenue.

France’s state-controlled monopoly EDF, which is losing around a 100,000 retail clients to rivals in the French market, has complained that its competitors were using anticompetitive methods to lure clients.

Competition in the French retail electricity and gas market is heating up, over a decade after the market was liberalized with new players including energy giant Total and retail group Casino, launching discounted offers.

Reporting by Bate Felix, Emmanuel Jarry and Benjamin Mallet; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

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