The European Commission can confirm that on 24 March 2015, Commission officials carried out an unannounced inspection in Spain at the premises of a company active in the production, distribution and trading of ethanol, a biofuel. It follows inspections that the Commission and the EFTA Surveillance Authority undertook in May 2013 in the crude oil, refined oil products and biofuel sectors and inspections that the Commission undertook in October 2014 in the biofuel sector. The Commission has concerns that price benchmarks may have been distorted through anti-competitive behaviour, including through possible collusion when submitting price information to a Price Reporting Agency. Such behaviour, if established, may amount to violations of European antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and abuses of a dominant market position (Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and Articles 53 and 54 of the EEA Agreement).
Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step to investigations into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.