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EU fines Elf Aquitaine €59 mln in cartel

The European Commission fined Elf Aquitaine and unit Arkema France a total €59 million ($91.4 million) and two other groups €10 million each for fixing prices of a chemical.

Elf Aquitaine has merged with Total SA and spun off Arkema France.

Arkema said the fine would have no impact on its result “bearing in mind both the provisions already booked and the warranty agreed with Total, on the occasion of the spin-off.”

Arkema also said that it would wait until receiving the full decision before considering whether to lodge an appeal with the European Court of first instance.

Finnish Chemicals of Finland and Erikem of Luxembourg were fined €10.2 million and Aragonesas/Uralita of Spain €9.9 million for participating in the sodium chlorate paper bleach cartel, the European Union executive said in a statement.

EKA Chemicals of Sweden and Dutch Akzo Nobel reported the cartel to authorities in March 2003, and received amnesty for their cooperation.

By the time EKA reported the cartel, which ran from 1994 to 2000, it had been over for three years.

Finnish Chemicals offered to cooperate and its fine was cut by 50%.

The Commission nearly doubled the fine imposed on Arkema and Elf because this was a repeat offence.

“Arkema's shareholders and management should be asking some pertinent questions, as the company's fine has been increased by 90% because it had participated in three cartels before this one,” Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in the statement.

“Companies' fines will keep increasing for repeat offences.”

The three other Arkema cartels were in the plastics sector -- for peroxygen in 1984, polypropylene in 1986 and PVC in 1994, the Commission said.

Sodium chlorate is mainly used to produce chlorine dioxide, which is used in the pulp and paper industry to bleach chemical pulp. (Reuters)