The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said that is it carrying out a number of on-site searches in the UK as part of the criminal investigation. The regulatory body said that the allegations under investigation relate to a possible worldwide conspiracy between executives of a number of companies to rig bids, fix prices and allocate markets in the supply of marine hoses.

The OFT commented that the suspected cartel may have affected contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds. The body is working alongside the US Department of Justice and the European Commission on its investigations to determine the truth of these accusations.

According to Reuters, Swedish company Trelleborg has already been investigated. The publication added that the OFT has since searched the French, Italian and British offices of makers of marine tubes, which are used in both the oil and the defense industries.

John Fingleton, OFT chief executive, said: The OFT is committed to making full use of our criminal enforcement powers to investigate allegations of serious cartel conduct. Cartels are not limited to national boundaries and our coordinated work with the European Commission and the US Department of Justice illustrates our determination to investigate international and national cartels alike.