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Shell, ChevronTexaco Accused of Fixing Gas Prices

NEW YORK -- Shell Oil Co., ChevronTexaco Corp. and a unit of Saudi Aramco were sued by a group of gasoline dealers who claim the companies conspired to fix the price of fuel sold to about 20,000 service stations nationwide, according to Bloomberg.

Four New York service stations filed a price-fixing suit on behalf of Shell and Texaco dealers. The station owners say the oil companies created two joint ventures, Equilon Enterprises and Motiva Enterprises, as a guise to overcharge dealers.

The lawsuit follows a June 1 ruling by a federal appeals court in California reinstating a similar case against the companies. That day, the U.S. General Accounting Office said a study indicated the joint ventures might have led to higher gas prices in some cities.

The suit in Manhattan federal court claims that in 1996, senior officers of Saudi Refining Inc., "Shell and Texaco met and entered into an agreement to raise, fix, peg and stabilize the price of motor fuel sold to Shell and Texaco dealers.''

Karyn Leonardi-Cattolica, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Shell, the U.S. arm of the Royal Dutch/Shell group, Europe's second-largest oil and natural gas producer, declined to comment, according to Bloomberg.

A spokesman for San Ramon, Calif.-based ChevronTexaco, the second-biggest U.S. oil company, didn't immediately return a call from Bloomberg. Saudi Aramco is the world's biggest oil company.

The suit, which claims the conspiracy lasted from July 1998 until February 2002, doesn't specify the amount of damages the gas stations seek. Under antitrust law, damages may be tripled. The stations say Equilon and Motiva earned $33 billion annually.
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