Oil prices were manipulated, government commission charges

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the agency charged with "ensuring the integrity of the futures & options market," has accused the trading firm, Optiver Holding, of manipulating the prices of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the first complaint announced since their recent investigation into the manipulation of oil prices began:

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today its case against Optiver Holding BV, two of its subsidiaries, and three employees, charging them with manipulation and attempted manipulation of New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) Light Sweet Crude Oil, New York Harbor Heating Oil, and New York Harbor Gasoline futures contracts during March 2007.

The CFTC filed the civil enforcement action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Optiver Holding BV, a global proprietary trading fund headquartered in the Netherlands, and two subsidiaries – Optiver US, LLC (Optiver), a Chicago-based corporation, and Optiver VOF, a Dutch company. The complaint also names defendants Christopher Dowson (head trader of Optiver), Randal Meijer (head of trading and supervisor of Optiver and Optiver VOF) and Bastiaan van Kempen (Chief Executive Officer of Optiver).

In May, under the backdrop of record oil prices and calls from legislators to crack down on speculative oil trading and market manipulation, the CFTC announced a wide-ranging probe into oil price manipulation. The agency says it has dozens of investigations ongoing.

The CFTC began their probe into the manipulation of oil prices amid record prices increases in May. They say they have dozens of investigations underway. This was the first announced charge against a specific company. The implication is that there are more to follow.
According to the complaint, the defendants employed a manipulative scheme commonly known as “banging” or “marking”’ the close. “Banging the close” refers to the practice of acquiring a substantial position leading up to the closing period, followed by offsetting the position before the end of the close of trading for the purpose of attempting to manipulate prices.
More information will be forthcoming as the investigation continues.