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European regulators accuse videotape makers of price fixing

European Union regulators accused videotape makers of participating in a price-fixing cartel, the second time in less than a week that the EU has charged companies for alleged cartel activity.

European Union regulators accused makers of professional videotape of participating in a price-fixing cartel, the second time in less than a week that the EU has charged companies for alleged cartel activity. The European Commission sent official charge sheets to several companies, Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for the Brussels-based European Commission, said today in a telephone interview. The companies, which weren't identified, have two months to reply. „The statement of objections alleges that the undertakings concerned fixed the prices of professional videotape products, thereby restricting competition in the European Economic Area market in violation” of EU antitrust rules, the commission said in an e-mailed statement. EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has made fighting cartels one of her main priorities for her five-year term that began in November 2004.

Last week the commission charged four companies, including Nippon Sheet Glass Co. and Asahi Glass Co., of fixing the price of glass used in construction. Fujifilm Holdings Corp., Japan's biggest film maker, said that it received the statement of objections and „will study it and comment on it later,” Ken Sugiyama, spokesman for Tokyo-based Fujifilm, said by telephone. The EU based its charges on information collected during searches of offices in 2002. The regulator said it also obtained information through its leniency program, which grants companies cuts in fines in exchange for cooperation in cartel investigations.

Professional videotape is used to record optical signals made by a camera or computer, the commission said. Television stations and independent producers use the tapes in video recording equipment, the commission said. The commission, the EU's antitrust authority, has the power to fine companies as much as 10% of global sales. Companies found guilty are typically fined 2% to 3% of sales. Last year, the commission levied an annual record of €1.84 billion ($2.4 billion) in cartel fines. On February 21, the agency imposed €992.3 million in fines - its largest penalty ever - against Otis Elevator Co., ThyssenKrupp AG and three competitors for fixing the price of elevators and escalators. The commission said the statements of objections are a formal step and the companies can request a hearing before a final decision is made. (Bloomberg)