In 2005, eight different undertakings were found to have participated in three cartels in the industrial thread market. In the framework of the leniency procedure, the active cooperation of the Belgian company, BST, recently led to a major reduction of its fine.
By a decision adopted on 14 September 2005, the European Commission stated that eight firms involved in the industrial thread markets had participated in a series of agreements and concerted practices, in breach of competition rules.
More accurately, three different cartels had taken place. The undertakings involved in the first cartel did not get fined as it was time-barred. On the other hand, the Commission inflicted severe penalties on the undertakings involved in the second and third cartels.
Belgian Sewing Thread (BST) was part of the third cartel, together with Germans and Swiss undertakings. All the parties involved in this cartel had cooperated with the Commission during the investigation. Hence, on the basis of the Commission “leniency notice”, they were all entitled to a reduction of the fine (20% for BST and 15% for the other companies).
The Belgian company lodged an action before the General Court (previously known as the Court of First Instance) against the Commission decision and asked for an annulment, or alternatively for a reduction, of the fine.
BST mainly argued that its undeniable participation to the cartel did not amount to a single and continuous infringement given that the cartel was conceived and organized by the other undertakings.
By a judgment of 28 April 2010, the General Court rejected this reasoning, considering that an undertaking can be held fully liable even when it has only participated to a few of the cartel’s constituent elements.
However, the General Court did agree that the difference between the level of the fine’s reduction granted to BST (20%) and the one granted to the other companies (15%) was insufficient since BST had truly and effectively cooperated by giving the most critical information for establishing the infringement, while the contributions of the other undertakings was described as “useless”.
Therefore, the General Court granted an additional 10% fine’s reduction to BST.