16 March 2018

Fines to cartels within the car industry turn focus on applications for relief of fines 

In three separate decisions, The European Commission has imposed fines of more than EUR 540 million on a number of players within the car industry. At the same time, three cartel members obtained relief of fines due to their roles in relation to exposing the cartels.

On 21 February 2018, the European Commission ended its investigations concerning cartels within the car industry. In three decisions, the European Commission imposed fines on seven companies for violation of the prohibition against agreements restricting competition under article 101 of the FEU Treaty:

  • Sea transport of cars: In the period October 2006 to September 2012, the companies CSAV, K Line, MOL, NYK and WWL-EUKOR had coordinated their prices, distributed the customers between them and exchanged other business-sensitive information.
  • Spark plugs: In the period 2000 to 2011, the companies Bosch, Denso and NGK had coordinated their prices and distributed the customers between them.
  • Brake systems: In the period 2007 to 2011, the companies TRW, Bosch and Continental had exchanged business-sensitive information.

MOL, Denso and TRW all had their fines reduced by 100% as they had notified the European Commission about the cartels.

RELIEF OF FINE AND SETTLEMENTS

In addition to MOL, Denso and TRW, the other cartel members also had their fines reduced as they had cooperated with the European Commission concerning the clarification. The reduction was fixed based on the European Commission Notice on Immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases. The reduction varied from 20 % to 50 % depending on the type of information provided by the company and the timing of the cooperation with the European Commission.

The cases were also subject to the simplified procedure concerning settlements. According to this procedure, the European Commission may reward companies for their contributions to a faster and more effective case handling. The cartel members’ fines were therefore further reduced in addition to the relief under the European Commission’s guidelines from 2006.

WHISTLEBLOWER tools

For a long time, the European Commission Notice on Immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases was the most important tool in the European Commission’s efforts against cartels, but in March 2017, the European Commission launched a whistleblower scheme according to which employees and other persons may provide information anonymously to the European Commission via an encrypted connection. The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority has a similar tool.

If a company wishes to enjoy the possibility of relief of a fine, it must submit a request for relief before the competition authorities are made aware of the violation of the competition rules via an anonymous inquiry. Companies should therefore consider establishing an internal whistleblower tools where employees may make anonymous inquiries if they have knowledge of violation of the competition rules.

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