€ 518 million fines for pre-stressing steel cartel

By Chris Sleight06 July 2010

The European Commission has announced fines totalling € 518 million for 17 producers of steel for pre-stressed concrete. According to the Commission, the companies fixed prices and restricted competition across almost all of Europe from 1984 to 2002.

Commenting on the decision, Joaquin Almunia, Commission vice president in charge of competition said, "It is amazing how such a significant number of companies abused nearly the entire European construction market for such a long time and for such a vital product. This was almost as if they were acting in a planned economy.

"The Commission will have no sympathy for cartelists; recidivists will be fined more and inability-to-pay claims will be accepted only when it is clear the fine would send a company into bankruptcy, which is rare even in the current difficult times."

The Commission says the cartel was active across all the countries that formed the EU from 1984 to 2002, with the exception of Greece, Ireland and the UK, while Norway was also affected. The price fixing was only brought to an end when the cartel was exposed by one of its members - DWK/Saarstahl, under EU leniency rules. Although named in the cartel, the company received no fine as a result.

Anti-competitive practices are said to include fixing quotas and prices, allocating clients and exchanging commercially sensitive information. The Cartel is also accused of monitoring prices, and meeting up regularly on a European and regional basis to discuss prices. The Commission says it has evidence of 550 such meetings.

The biggest fine is against Arcelor Mittal, although the € 315 million penalties against two subsidiaries were reduced under leniency rules.

Responding to the Commission's announcement, a statement from Arcelor Mittal said, "When it receives the full Commission decision, the company will review the decision in detail and respond within the time limits provided. All options including appeal will be considered."

Among the other companies named, the most heavily fined were Global Steel Wire/Tycsa (€ 54 million), WDI/Pampus (€ 56 million) and Voest Alpine (€ 22 million).

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