Norwegian tanker company Jo Tankers has confirmed it has received a statement of objections from the European Commission regarding an antitrust probe into bulk liquid shipping companies.
Jo Tankers' legal counsel Bert Seevinck told Thomson Financial News: 'I can confirm that we have been informed that the EU has entered into the final stage of its investigations.'
The response follows a confirmation from peer Odfjell ASA that the EU Commission had begun formal investigations of it in an antitrust probe.
The commission said earlier it had issued formal cartel charges against 'a number of' bulk liquid shipping companies, without naming them.
In 2003, the four major chemical tanker operators in Europe -- Odfjell, Stolt-Nielsen Jo Tankers and Tokyo Marine in London -- announced that antitrust authorities raided their offices in Norway, the Netherlands and the UK, investigating a possible cartel.
The EU executive alleges that the companies were involved in customer allocation, bid-rigging, price-fixing, and the exchange of confidential market information concerning the maritime transport of bulk liquids on deep sea routes, thereby restricting competition in the EU market in violation of EC Treaty rules outlawing restrictive business practices.
Stolt-Nielsen confirmed that it has received a statement of objections from the European Commission concerning alleged infringements of the EU and EEA competition rules regarding the maritime transport of bulk liquids on deep sea routes in the period August 24, 1998 to April 8, 2002.
The group, which was granted provisional immunity by the commission on Feb 12, 2003, said it will continue to cooperate with the European Commission during these proceedings.
Stolt-Nielsen added that it is its understanding that its status as a leniency applicant remains unchanged.
The commission has sent a statement of objections, which lays out the formal charges, to the parties involved regarding their alleged role in cartel arrangements for shipping liquids in bulk on deep sea routes.
Statements of objections are a formal step in European antitrust investigations. After receiving such statements, companies have two months to defend themselves in writing. They can also ask the commission to hear their case at an oral hearing, which usually takes place about one month after the written reply has been received.
After having heard the company's defense, the commission can take a final decision, which may be accompanied by fines of up to 10 pct of the companies' total annual turnover.