BP Under Microscope For Possible Price Manipulation

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BP Under Microscope For Possible Price Manipulation

LONDON -- The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that federal investigators are looking into whether BP PLC manipulated the crude oil and unleaded gasoline markets.

The British energy giant was already reeling from the aftermath of a leak that caused the shutdown of its Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska. Now, the company also faces a civil complaint filed by federal commodities regulators for allegedly manipulating the U.S. propane market.

Citing lawyers and traders close to the case, the Journal reported that the separate investigations on crude oil and gasoline could intensify public and political pressure on BP because these markets are bigger and directly affect most American households.

According to the Journal's sources, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has sent subpoenas to BP and energy traders in the crude-oil investigation, which is probing possible manipulation of the global over-the-counter market in 2003 and 2004.

The separate gasoline inquiry, which has been under way more than a year and includes a criminal probe by the Justice Department, is examining a single day's trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 2002, the lawyers and traders close to the case told the Journal.

A spokesman for BP in the United Kingdom said, "We are aware of investigations being done by the [U.S.] authorities and we are cooperating fully."

Reportedly, other trading firms had also received CFTC demands for information, suggesting that the investigation went beyond BP.

A CFTC spokesman declined to comment, saying the agency doesn't confirm or deny investigations. A Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.