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EU says raids international airlines in cartel probe

European Commission trust busters raided the offices of several international airlines operating long-haul scheduled flights to Japan on Tuesday in an investigation into suspected cartel activity.

“Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of a number of international airline passenger carriers,” the European Union executive said in a statement. The Commission, Europe’s top competition regulator, issued the confirmation after Deutsche Lufthansa said it had been searched in a probe into price-fixing on routes between Europe and Japan. “The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EC rules on restrictive business practices,” the EU statement said.

A source at Alitalia said Italy’s troubled national carrier was also raided by EU inspectors investigating a suspected cartel on Japan routes. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic said they had not been raided. Spain’s Iberia said its flights to Japan were operated on a code-share basis and it had no information on the investigation. Other European airlines were either not available to comment or said they were checking and had no immediate information. The Commission said its officials were accompanied by counterparts from national competition authorities. Surprise inspections, often known as dawn raids, are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels and do not necessarily mean companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has made fighting cartels one of her highest priorities and has imposed a series of record fines in the last two years amounting to a total of billions of euros (dollars). (Reuters)