AFX News Limited, June 16, 2005

Shell, Bayer, Dow: EU sends 'statement of objections' in synthetic rubber cartel inquiry

The European Commission confirmed it sent a 'statement of objections' detailing competition concerns to a series of synthetic rubber producers accused of operating a cartel. 'We can confirm that the statement of objections was sent,' said a commission spokeswoman -- adding it was sent on June 8.

The commission declined to confirm which companies were involved in the inquiry, which concerns alleged price-fixing in butadiene, a synthetic rubber used in the manufacture of flooring, car tires and shoes.

Royal Dutch/Shell and Czech oil company Unipetrol confirmed that they had been notified by the commission, while reports said the statement named Bayer AG of Germany, Dow Chemical Co of the US, Italian firm ENI SPA and its subsidiary Syndial, and Dwory of Poland.

'We can confirm that Shell companies in the Netherlands have received a statement of objections from the European Commission regarding competition law issues, involving a rubber business that was sold by Shell during the 1990s,' a Shell spokesman said. 'We've cooperated fully with the commission on this matter and we'll continue to do so.' The spokesman said 'it wouldn't be appropriate to provide further comment.'

In Prague, Unipetrol rejected any suggestion of price-fixing. A spokesman said the commission letter had been received and was being studied by Unipetrol and the chemicals firm Kaucuk which is part of its group. Unipetrol is 63 pct owned by Poland's PKN Orlen.

A statement of objection is the first step in a formal procedure directed at punishing breaches of European Union competition law. Companies receiving notification from the commission have until September to reply.