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US to Monitor Gas Prices for Fraud

Gas prices above $1.31 per liter ($5 per gallon) are seen on a sign at a gas station in Washington, April 20, 2011

Gas prices above $1.31 per liter ($5 per gallon) are seen on a sign at a gas station in Washington, April 20, 2011

The U.S. government says it is going to monitor the sharply rising gasoline prices in the country to see if anyone is profiting illegally.

The country's top legal official, Attorney General Eric Holder, said Thursday that officials from several agencies would be "vigilant" in looking at oil and gas markets for "any wrongdoing" so that motorists in the car-dependent country "can be confident" they are not paying more because of manipulation of prices or other illegal activity.

Holder said there are some lawful reasons for the increased gas prices motorists are now paying - close to $4 for 3.8 liters (or U.S gallon). But he said that when consumers are harmed by unlawful conduct, state and federal authorities "should take swift action."

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech in the western state of Nevada, said there is "no silver bullet" that can immediately bring down gas prices. But he said regulators would "make sure" that no one is "taking advantage" of Americans.

Mr. Obama, as he has in the past, called for an end to $4 billion in annual subsidies the government gives to oil and gas companies. He said the payments were unnecessary at a time when the energy firms are making "record profits."

Many American motorists are complaining about the higher cost to fill up the tanks of their vehicles. While the cost of gas is lower in the U.S. than in several European countries, such high prices have not been seen in the U.S. in three years. U.S. gas prices are not uniform and vary regionally, with the average price for 3.8 liters already above $4 in some communities, nearly a dollar higher than it was a year ago.

The price of gasoline is directly related to the rising cost of crude oil, now at a two-and-a-half-year high as political turmoil continues to envelope the oil-producing states of the Middle East. The price of crude accounts for about 65 percent of the cost of gas at U.S. service stations.