The Obama administration is exploring whether rising oil and gasoline prices are being driven higher by illegal manipulation.

Representatives of the Justice Department, other federal agencies and state attorneys general will monitor for fraud, collusion or misrepresentation at the retail and wholesale level, the department said in a statement yesterday. The group also will examine the role of speculators and traders in oil futures markets.

Gasoline climbed to a 33-month high yesterday, and crude oil prices were up 23 percent this year as Middle East unrest reduced supply and the global economic rebound bolstered fuel demand.

Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank AG (DB) in Washington, said the Obama administration’s announcement “seems like a political action.”

“They are going to investigate whether any fraud and manipulation has occurred, not that there was any evidence that it had taken place,” he said in an interview. “I suspect they won’t find any sign of major fraud or manipulation.”

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