Spanish investigators raid Repsol, Cepsa and BP in petrol pricing probe
Spanish investigators have raided the offices of Repsol, Cepsa and BP in a dramatic escalation of a probe into allegations that the companies have abused their power in the petrol market.
The three companies confirmed that officials from the National Markets and Competition Commission had entered their country headquarters in Madrid after the regulator revealed it had raided “several” unnamed operators in the energy sector.
The competition watchdog’s previously unknown probe is a new source of tension in relations between the Spanish authorities and the energy sector, as the government grapples with the consequences of prices driven higher by the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
One person familiar with the regulator’s probe said it stemmed from complaints from small petrol station operators that they were being squeezed by larger groups such as Repsol, Cepsa and BP.
The big groups play a dual role as refiners that sell petrol to fuel station operators while competing directly with them as owners of their own-branded petrol stations.
Small operators say that by charging higher wholesale prices then offering consumers generous discounts at the pump the big players have left them struggling to compete financially.
Repsol and Cepsa have long been the two dominant players in the oil business in Spain, although both are seeking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and are investing in renewable power projects. BP has been in the country since the 1950s.
The CNMC said it had “inspected” the headquarters of the companies between November 28 and December 2, saying it was “analysing alleged anti-competitive practices that could violate the Spanish Competition Act” and EU law.
If evidence of wrongdoing was found, disciplinary proceedings would be initiated, it said. “Anti-competitive practices and abuses of a dominant position constitute a very serious infringement of competition law, which can lead to fines of up to 10 per cent of the total [annual] turnover,” it noted.
But it added that the inspections “do not prejudge the outcome of the investigation or the culpability” of the targets.
It said it had opened its investigation having received several complaints. The person familiar with the probe said the complaints had come from groups representing small businesses that own petrol stations.
Repsol said it “has co-operated fully with the CNMC. The company strongly denies the allegations and affirms that it strictly complies with competition regulations.” Cepsa said it had “made all the required information available to the regulator in the full conviction that our company has acted correctly in competition matters”. BP said: “We assisted the [competition] authority with their inquiries.”
The raids come two weeks before the expiry of a government subsidy that reduces prices by €0.20 per litre.
Some of the largest petrol station owners supplemented the subsidy — introduced to lessen the impact of higher prices due to the Ukraine war — with extra discounts of their own, which smaller rivals found hard to match.
The government has signalled that the subsidy is likely to be maintained in some form in 2023 for certain vulnerable groups.
The average petrol price in Spain on Wednesday was €1.60 per litre, according to the website dieselogasolina.com.