U.S. steps up probe of rise in gas prices

October 05, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice is escalating its investigation of the soaring gasoline prices that accompanied the Persian Gulf crisis.

The department yesterday issued civil subpoenas seeking documents and formal explanations from oil companies, refiners and marketers.

While the issuing of the subpoenas, which are known formally as civil investigative demands, marks a higher level of inquiry in the two-month investigation, the fact that the government did not seek grand jury subpoenas signaled that it has not found signs of criminal antitrust violations.

"We aggressively will pursue this investigation until we determine whether or not violations of antitrust law contributed to the rise in gasoline prices," said James F. Rill, assistant attorney general for antitrust.

The average national price for self-service unleaded gasoline jumped from $1.075 per gallon the day before Iraq invaded Kuwait to $1.115 only two days later, according to the American Automobile Association. The current average is $1.346, or 27.1 cents more than on Aug. 1.

Since opening their investigation four days after the Kuwait invasion, government investigators have conducted voluntary interviews with representatives of major oil companies and independent refiners and marketers and collected statistical data on gas prices and supplies.

Rill said the records sought by civil investigative demands would allow investigators "to examine more closely those explanations and also pursue some issues for which we don't yet have answers."

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