US Senate nod to sue Opec for price fixing

Washington, April 28 | Updated: Apr 29 2006, 05:30am hrs
The US government would be able to sue the Opec oil cartel for price fixing under legislation approved by a Senate panel on Thursday, less than a week before the cartels most influential official visits Washington. The bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee would revoke the sovereign immunity cartel members currently enjoy from US legal action and allow the Justice Department to sue them in US courts.

With Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi scheduled for a high-profile visit with Bush administration officials next week, the Senate plan would allow the US attorney general to sue oil producing cartels if they try to limit production or set prices.

The so-called NOPEC provision must be approved by the full Congress and President Bush before taking effect. The White House quietly opposed a similar measure last year and has not yet weighed in on the latest version. Saudi Arabia is the biggest producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps about a third of the worlds crude oil, and Naimi is its de-facto front-man.

Opec has been pumping near full-tilt in the face of record crude oil prices above $70 a barrel, and US crude oil inventories have swelled to near 8-year highs.

Opecs moves to control the amount of oil pumped by its members amounts to a flagrant violation of anti-trust laws, said Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican.