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EU fines four companies for forming bitumen cartel

The European Union fined four companies involved in Spanish road works a total of €183 million ($259 million) on Wednesday, ruling that they had run a cartel for over a decade to fix the price of a key asphalt ingredient.

According to the European Commission, between 1991 and 2002, these companies shared the market for bitumen, used for road construction, and coordinated bitumen prices. Spanish companies Repsol and Cepsa, which the EU Commission pinpointed as the leaders of the cartel, have to pay the heaviest fines, of over €80 million ($110 million) each. Nynas of Sweden and Galp of Portugal were fined up to €10 million ($14 million). “It is unacceptable that these companies cheated customers, public authorities and tax payers in

Spain for almost 12 years by carving up the market,” said EU antitrust Commissioner Neelie Kroes. “The Commission will not tolerate such illegal activity by companies to swindle clients and we will continue to impose stiff penalties on offenders,” Kroes said. The Commissioner has made the fight against market-distorting cartels a cornerstone of her tenure. The antitrust office said BP was the first company to come forward with information on the cartel and received immunity from the fines.

Last year, the EU fined 14 companies involved in Dutch road works a total of €267 million ($378 million) for similar infractions. The EU Commission said that the Spanish cartel fixed prices, sales volumes and market quotas from at least 1991 to 2002. The market in Spain was worth up to €286 million ($405 million) at the time. The EU Commission had established higher fines for the companies but then reduced them, according to the level to which the companies had cooperated with the investigation. BP did not have to pay any of its €66.42 million ($94.08 million) fine; Repsol had its fine reduced by 40% to €80.496 million ($114.02 million); and Cepsa had its fine reduced by 25% to €83.85 million ($118.77 million).

The Commission said the companies met secretly at hotels or the headquarters of companies each year around the “asphalt table” and fixed the market there. At the end, each participant received a document named after the local children’s program “Petete” with the details for next year. (businessweek.com)