On 2 April 2014, the Commission fined producers of high voltage power cables EUR 302,000,000 for a cartel to split the market and to allocate customers on a global scale for almost 10 years.
The European Commission launched an investigation following a leniency application by ABB. Following this leniency application, the Commission organized dawn raids in January 2009. At the end of its investigation, the European Commission issued a statement of objections which was submitted to the companies concerned. They had the opportunity to comment on this statement and to be heard by the Commission.
It should be noted that, in November 2012, the EU General Court partly annulled the Commission inspection decisions insofar as they related to any cables other than high voltage underground and submarine cables. Nevertheless, this annulment did not impact the decision adopted by the Commission on 2 April 2014.
The Commission revealed that the producers entered into mutual agreements according to which the European and Asian producers would stay out of each other’s territories, and most of the rest of the world would be divided among them. The participants involved in this cartel allocated projects between themselves according to geographic regions or customers. For example, when the Asian company received requests from European customers, they informed the European producers and declined to make an offer.
The Commission had enough evidence to condemn 11 producers of underground and submarine high voltage power cables of a cartel to split the market and allocate customers for nearly 10 years on an almost worldwide scale. It should also be emphasized that, during the inspections, the IT team of the Commission using forensic technologies managed to recover several thousand documents that had been deleted by one of the companies targeted.
The companies implicated in the cartel were ordered to pay a total fine of nearly EUR 302,000,000. The largest fines imposed were on Prysmian (nearly EUR 105,000,000), Nexans (EUR 71,000,000), Viscas (EUR 35,000,000) and J-Power Systems (EUR 20,000,000).
ABB received full immunity following the leniency application. Other undertakings received rebates on their fines for their cooperation with the investigations. Goldman Sachs, the investment company, was also fined for being the former owner of Prysmian. Indeed, the European Commission tends to also target the parent company of the producer involved in a cartel when it can be demonstrated that it exercises a decisive influence over its subsidiary.
In a press release announcing this decision, the European Commission reiterated that any person or firm that is the victim of an infringement under competition law may ask for damages before the national judge.
In June 2013, the Commission adopted a proposal for a directive that aims at making it easier for victims of anti-competitive practices to obtain such damages. The Commission also issued a communication on quantifying harm in actions for damages based on Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.