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Holcim, other cement makers face damages, court rules

HeidelbergCement AG, Holcim Ltd. of Switzerland and rival cement makers face damage claims of at least €114 million ($150 million) relating to a price-fixing case, a German court ruled.

The damage claim was filed by Brussels-based Cartel Damage Claims SA, which is representing unidentified companies. „The claim is allowed,” the regional court in Dusseldorf said in a statement today. The court said it will hold a further hearing on the damage payment in „late summer” at the earliest. The claims stem from a 2003 investigation and subsequent fines levied on the cement makers by the country's Federal Cartel Office after it uncovered evidence of price fixing.
According to the cartel office, the companies maintained artificially high prices for cement from the 1970s by conspiring to fix production quotas and splitting geographical regions among themselves. Other cement makers involved in the case are Dyckerhoff AG and Schwenk Zement KG of Germany as well as French rival Lafarge SA. The companies have said the claims have no basis and the lawsuit was brought without cause. „We regret that such a construction was regarded as allowed because it's based on a business model that follows US examples,” Dyckerhoff spokeswoman Birgit Eggersmeier said yesterday.
„We stick to our opinion that the claims are unfounded and will use all legal remedies.” Germany's cartel law was changed on July 1, 2005, to reflect European Union-wide regulations, allowing companies that may have been disadvantaged by an alliance to file damages claims under private law. „We are currently examining an appeal of the decision,” HeidelbergCement's Brigitte Fickel said. She said the lawsuit was brought without cause. Holcim spokesman Peter Gysel said the company couldn't comment until it received the court's ruling. A spokesperson for Schwenk wasn't immediately available to comment. (Bloomberg)