German cartel office keeps up pressure in gas probe

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Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said on Thursday it will be tough on three firms that have not responded to charges they levied inflated gas prices in a probe against 35 companies opened last month.

A spokeswoman for the Bonn-based authority said all companies should by now have produced sales and profit figures as the authority moves to question the dominance of sector bigwigs in order to help consumers, but only 32 have done so. Most prominently, Berlin’s gas supplier Gasag had failed to supply any information to date while two other smaller players had provided insufficient information, the spokeswoman said. Gasag is owned by the E.ON group’s local utility holding company Thuega, by Germany’s Vattenfall Europe, and by French Gaz de France. The other two are eastern German utility Stadtwerke Gera and Energie SaarLorLux of Saarland state. “We will set the companies a deadline of just a few more weeks,” the spokeswoman said. “If they don’t reply, they may be fined.”

The probe is part of a battle being waged by Brussels and national authorities against energy heavyweights, which are accused of carving up the market and driving up prices. A spokesman for Gasag, which has a 47% share in the Berlin city’s heating market, said his company questioned the federal authority’s jurisdiction over a matter of a local nature which should have been referred to Berlin’s cartel office. A spokesman for SaarLorLux said the company had supplied everything it thought relevant for the purposes of the probe. Stadtwerke Gera was not immediately contactable. The companies in the probe represent 20% of gas sales to households and small industry. They were found to charge prices varying by up to 60%.

Cartel Office President Bernhard Heitzer aims to publish decisions, which may entail enforced price cuts, in July. The probe also targets subsidiaries of RWE and Stadtwerke Duesseldorf, which is part-owned by EnBW. (Reuters)

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