Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) said on October 10 that it has found evidence of a cartel agreement between six of the country’s largest petrol and diesel fuel retailers.
The accusation comes after an eight-month investigation opened in February, which found that the six companies entered an “illegal agreement and/or concerted practice to exchange price information carry out a joint pricing policy and exchange information about sales volumes and other market information” that was meant to “prevent, restrict and breach competition on the petrol and diesel fuel retail market.”
The six companies accused by the regulator – Shell Bulgaria (a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell), OMV Bulgaria (owned by Austria’s OMV), NIS Petrol (a unit of Naftna Industrija Srbije, which in turn is owned by Russia’s Gazprom Neft), Eco Bulgaria (owned by Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum), Lukoil Bulgaria (the local retail unit of Russian privately-owned oil company Lukoil) and local petrol distributor Petrol – have been notified about the commission’s findings and will be given access to all documentation gathered by the investigators.
Should they choose to, the companies can present written objections within 30 days and ask for an open hearing at the CPC to answer the accusations, but the regulator’s ruling cannot be appealed, CPC said in a statement.
When it opened the investigation, the regulator also targeted two other companies – Rompetrol Bulgaria (part of Romania’s Rompetrol Group, which is controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned oil and gas company KazMunayGas) and the Lukoil Neftochim refinery (owned by Russia’s Lukoil, it is the main supplier of Lukoil Bulgaria’s petrol station distribution network, but operates as a separate entity).
CPC’s statement on October 10 made no reference to either entity and the regulator is yet to publish the full text of its cartel ruling.
This was the second CPC investigation in four years into possible price-fixing by fuel retailers. The earlier probe, which concluded in July 2012, found that Lukoil Bulgaria did not abuse its dominant position on the market. The watchdog also approved a proposal by the four companies investigated at that time – Lukoil Bulgaria, Rompetrol Bulgaria, Petrol and OMV Bulgaria – that would fix competition issues. It did not levy any fines.