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EU fines banana importers €60.3 mln for cartel

The European Commission fined banana importers Dole and Weichert €60.3 million ($82.4 million) for price fixing in violation of the EU's strict antitrust laws.

“The European Commission has found that banana importers Chiquita, Dole and Weichert participated in a cartel between 2000 and 2002. Chiquita was not fined as it provided information to the Commission that enabled it to open its investigation,” the EU executive said in a statement.

“Del Monte is held jointly and severally liable for the payment of the fine imposed on Weichert as it controlled Weichert at the time of the infringement,” the statement said.

California-based Dole was fined €45.6 million, with US company Del Monte Inc and German Weichert jointly accountable for €14.7 million of the fine.

Dole confirmed the EU executive had fined its German subsidiary Dole Fresh Fruit Europe OHG but said in a statement it had “not violated the European competition laws, and intends to appeal this decision and the fine imposed.”

With 2007 net revenues of $6.93 billion, Dole is the world's largest producer and marketer of high-quality fresh fruit and vegetables, and is the leading producer of organic bananas.

The cartel coordinated their quotation prices for bananas in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, where the combined retail value of bananas sold in 2002 amounted to around €2.5 billion.

“It is totally unacceptable for companies to have rigged prices in this manner and the companies concerned must learn the hard way that the Commission will not tolerate such behavior,” EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in the statement.

EU antitrust authorities raided producers and importers of fresh exotic fruit over possible price fixing in November last year after Brussels asked US firm Chiquita Brands International Inc for additional information in the probe.

The European Commission is responsible for enforcing the European Union's competition laws and carries out regular raids on companies it believes to be acting as cartels.

In July 2007, the Commission charged Irish fruit distributor Fyffes Plc over its suspected role in a separate banana cartel. (Reuters)