EU cracks down on vitamin cartel culprits

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission imposed fines amounting to EUR 855.22
million on 8 producers of bulk vitamins for violating antitrust

The European Commission imposed hefty fines amounting to EUR 855.22 million on 8 producers of bulk vitamins for violating antitrust laws. Hoffmann-La Roche and BASF received the full force of the financial penalties. Strong and critical words came from the Commission on Wednesday when it announced the fines imposed. Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said, "This is the most damaging series of cartels the Commission has ever investigated due to the sheer range of vitamins covered. The companies' collusive behaviour enabled them to charge higher prices than if the full forces of competition had been at play, damaging consumers and allowing the companies to pocket illicit profits . It is particularly unacceptable that this illegal behaviour concerned substances which are vital elements for nutrition and essential for normal growth and maintenance of life."​ German chemicals group BASF AG received a fine of EUR 296.16 million and Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Roche was fined EUR 462 million. In a statement on Wednesday BASF said that it had not expected such a high fine and that will shortly decide if it will lodge an appeal with the European Court within the two-month legal time limit. Similar words came from Roche who commented on Wednesday that it is reviewing the European Commission's decision in order to decide on the appeal against the sentence. The European Commission was particularly critical of Roche, "the prime mover and main beneficiary of these schemes"​ and commented in a statement that " because the Swiss-based company Hoffman-La Roche was an instigator and participated in all the cartels it was given the highest cumulative fine of € 462 million."​ Both companies, in separate statements on Wednesday, stressed that internal measures had been taken to rule out violation of antitrust laws including personnel training in antitrust legislation, regular anti-cartel audits and other employee programmes. Fines were also imposed on Aventis SA (€ 5.04 million), Solvay Pharmaceuticals BV ( € 9.10 million ), Merck KgaA (€ 9.24 million) , Daiichi Pharmaceutical Co Ltd (€ 23.4 million), Eisai Co Ltd (€ 13.23 million) and Takeda Chemical Industries Ltd (€ 37.05 million), now part of BASF. In 1999 the main players of the cartels covered in the Commission's decision pleaded guilty to similar anti-competitive conduct in the US and paid heavy fines, including $500 million for Hoffmann La Roche, $225 million for BASF and $72 million for Takeda.

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