Bulgaria’s competition watchdog ends fuel cartel investigation without fines

For the second time in less than five years, the Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) ended an investigation into allegations of a price-fixing cartel on the fuel distribution market without imposing any fines, only accepting the proposals put forth by fuel retailers meant to fix competition issues.

The watchdog’s statement on March 29 said that CPC carried out a series of on-site inspections, requested a large amount of data and carried out an analysis of the behaviour of fuel retailers. The statement did not say whether the watchdog found enough evidence to support its accusations of a price-fixing cartel, first made in October 2016.

At that time, the regulator accused six companies – 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 – of price collusion.

On March 29, CPC also said that it found no evidence of wrong-doing by Rompetrol Bulgaria (part of Romania’s Rompetrol Group, which is controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned oil and gas company KazMunayGas) or the Bulgarian Petroleum and Gas Association.

The measures proposed by the six retailers and approved by the regulator were a ban on communication and information exchange by employees of fuel retail firms (including any contacts between employees of petrol stations owned by competing firms), an interdiction on any trade information exchanges within the framework of the Bulgarian Petroleum and Gas Association, as well as a requirement that any employee found to be disclosing confidential trade information be fired.

The fuel retailers will have 30 days to implement the measures mandated by the CPC. The ruling itself is not final and can be appealed within 14 days, either by the companies targeted in the investigation or third parties with a legal interest in bringing proceedings.

The CPC’s previous investigation into claims of a fuel retail market cartel ended in July 2012, also without any fines.

(Photo: sociate/flickr.com)



The Sofia Globe staff

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