Carbon black under scrutiny

European Commission inspectors have carried out inspections at the premises of six European companies to ascertain whether there was evidence of a cartel agreement concerning price fixing for carbon black.

The European Commission’s spokesperson for competition has confirmed that on November 19 2002, a number of Commission inspectors assisted by officials of the Member States concerned carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of six European companies located in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

The purpose of the inspections was to ascertain whether there was evidence of a cartel agreement and related illegal practices concerning price fixing for carbon black.

Although the EC did not name any companies specifically, Phelps Dodge confirmed that its Columbian Chemicals subsidiary had been contacted by US and European antitrust authorities. The company said that European antitrust authorities were reviewing documents at several Columbian Chemicals facilities in Europe, and US antitrust authorities had contacted Columbian Chemicals’ headquarters in Marietta, GA.

Cabot Corporation also disclosed that, as part of the investigative procedure, European antitrust authorities were reviewing documents at Cabot’s European headquarters in Suresnes, France, and that US authorities had contacted Cabot’s Boston, MA headquarters.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The fact that the European Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.