Which brings us to the latest black eye: charges that a BP unit manipulated propane prices in February 2004 to drive up prices and score a quick $20 million profit. According to a lawsuit filed in a Chicago federal court by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, BP traders tried to corner the market for propane �with the knowledge, advice and consent of senior management.� This wasn�t the first time BP has been accused of price fixing. In 2003, the company paid a $2.5 million penalty to the New York Mercantile Exchange to settle charges of improper crude-oil trading (the firm didn�t admit or deny wrongdoing). BP has since fired some employees involved in the alleged propane scheme, though it maintains that �market manipulation did not occur,� and has vowed to fight the charges in court. Prevailing in the case could prove tough, however, since a former BP trader has pled guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
It's never a good time, of course, to be accused of price-fixing. But BP can especially not afford it now. Every month of record gas prices brings more pressure on Congress to impose a windfall tax on oil companies. BP�s chief executive, Lord John Browne, made a relatively modest $8.24 million last year, but his counterpart