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New Zealand competition office lays cartel charges on European firms

New Zealand's competition office Commerce Commission announced Wednesday that it was taking legal action against three European companies, alleging they acted as a global cartel to fix prices and rig bids for equipment supplied to the electricity industry.

It said it was taking action against French companies Alstom Holdings SA and Schneider Electric Industries SA and the German firm Siemens AG, claiming they conspired to form a cartel for supplying gas insulated switchgear (GIS) which is used to control the flow of electricity in substations between 1988 and 2004. The move follows similar action by the European competition regulator which fined the three firms and other companies over €750 million ($1 billion) for conduct based on the same cartel agreement, the commission said. It alleged that the defendants implemented the price-fixing and bid-rigging cartel through their wholly-owned subsidiaries in New Zealand. The Auckland High Court has approved the action, as it must do under New Zealand law because the companies are all based overseas.

Commission chairwoman Paula Rebstock said that while GIS technology was not widely used in New Zealand, the companies were major players in New Zealand electricity markets, supplying a wide range of products and services. She said the action was being taken to ensure that New Zealand was not seen as a “soft touch” for international cartels. “These proceedings send a clear message that the commission will act to protect the competitiveness of New Zealand markets from illegal interference by cartels, whether domestic or foreign,” Rebstock said. She said one of the three companies had applied for leniency under terms of a commission policy that grants immunity from prosecution in return for information and cooperation, but did not identify it. (