Copper cartel fined €314.7m

The European Commission has fined 30 companies €314.7m for participating in a copper fittings cartel that violates Article 81 of the EC Treaty banning restrictive business practices.

The 11 groups to which these companies belong are Aalberts, IMI, Delta, Advanced Fluid Connections, Legris, Frabo, Mueller, Tomkins, Flowflex, Viegener and Sanha Kaimer.

Between 1988 and 2004, the companies are said to have fixed prices, discounts and rebates, agreed on mechanisms to coordinate price increases, allocated customers and exchanged commercially important and confidential information.

Four of these groups, Aalberts, Delta, Advanced Fluid Connections and Legris had their fines increased by 60% because they continued their illegal arrangements after the Commission’s initial inspections. Advanced Fluid Connections’ fine was increased by a further 50% for providing the Commission with misleading information. Mueller received full immunity from fines under the Commission’s leniency programme, as it was the first company to come forward with information about the cartel.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said ‘We will not tolerate cartels and will take all measures to stamp them out. We will not only punish firms severely for cartel behaviour, but also increase the fines for flagrantly continuing after a Commission dawn raid and for providing wrong or misleading information.’

The product concerned is copper fittings, including copper alloy fittings such as gunmetal, brass and other copper-based alloys. A fitting connects tubes used to conduct water, air and gas in plumbing, heating, sanitation and other installations. Various types of fittings known as end-feed, solder ring, compression, press and push-fit were all covered by the cartel, resulting in higher prices for business and retail consumers.

The investigation was prompted by an application for leniency lodged by Mueller in January 2001, under the 1996 Leniency Notice. Subsequently, the Commission carried out unannounced inspections. Later the Commission issued requests for information which triggered applications for reduction of fines by several undertakings.