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Total, Shell Get French Complaints in Butane Probe

Bloomberg.com

By Matthew Newman and Heather Smith

Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) — Total SA, Europe’s third-largest oil producer, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and UGI Corp. units received complaints from France’s antitrust agency as part of an investigation into the propane and butane industry.

The French authority sent a so-called statement of objections in July regarding antitrust practices in the liquefied petroleum gas market, Total and UGI said in separate U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Shell’s French unit, Butagaz, received a complaint as well, said Rainer Winzenried, a spokesman for Shell, today.

“We are studying the objections,” Lisa Wyler, a spokeswoman for Paris-based Total, said in a telephone interview today.

Total and its units have been fined in at least three other cartels. Antitrust fines in France can be as much as 10 percent of annual revenue and fines can be increased for repeat offenders. UGI’s Antargaz unit in France holds about a quarter of the country’s butane market, according to its Web site.

“Butagaz has received a statement about alleged anti- competitive practices in the LPG sector, the camping bottles,” said Shell’s Winzenried. “Butagaz has cooperated with the competition authorities throughout the process. The company will now carefully review the statement.”

Previous Fines

The European Commission, the European Union’s antitrust regulator, in 2005 fined Total SA’s Atofina unit, now called Arkema SA, 58.5 million euros ($83.3 million) for rigging prices of monochloroacetic acid, a chemical used in detergents.

In 2006, the commission levied a 20.3 million-euro penalty against Total for fixing the price of bitumen, which is used in road construction. The EU regulator fined Total 128.1 million euros last year for fixing the price of paraffin wax, used in candles and paper cups. Total has filed appeals in all three penalties at the Luxembourg-based European Court of First Instance, which hasn’t ruled yet.

A spokesman for King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based UGI’s Antargaz unit declined to comment beyond the SEC filing.

Antitrust agents raided Antargaz’s headquarters in June 2005 and seized documents, UGI said. The alleged violation took place between 1999 and 2004, the company said. UGI recorded a $10 million provision for a possible fine.

The French butane and propane industry trade group, another target of the probe that was also raided, has been dropped from the investigation, said Joel Pedessac, general director of the association, in a telephone interview today.

“They have found no fault with us,” said Pedessac. “We were within the scope of the investigation, so it is very good news.”

Virginie Guin, spokeswoman for the French competition authority, declined to comment.

— With assistance from Stephanie Bodoni in Brussels. Editors: Peter Chapman, Anthony Aarons.

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Newman at [email protected]; Heather Smith in Paris at [email protected]

Last Updated: August 20, 2009 12:59 EDT

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