‘We will catch you and make you pay’ – Prodi declares war on cartels

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Series Details Vol.7, No.45, 6.12.01, p21
Publication Date 06/12/2001
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Date: 06/12/01

By Peter Chapman

COMMISSION President Romano Prodi has launched a stinging attack against the cartels that rip off European consumers, pledging to "catch them and make them pay".

The Prodi assault follows another fines spree against companies for fixing prices in the market for citric acid and beer just two weeks after last month's record €855-million in fines for participants of a vitamins cartel.

"For the second time in a fortnight, the Commission has taken tough action against organised cartels that have been ripping off customers in Europe by practices such as price-fixing," said Prodi.

"The message to any companies which are playing this game is clear: the Commission will not tolerate attempts to cheat the European public and undermine the competitiveness of our economy.

"If you try to sew up the market in secret deals, we will catch you and make you pay. The fact that the Commission polices the single market to stop this kind of behaviour is one of the most direct benefits which the EU brings to ordinary people," he said.

Prodi's attempt to take the credit for tough cartel rulings coincides with efforts to boost his flagging image amid criticism of his leadership skills.

In an interview with the Financial Times Prodi said he was re-launching his political career to avoid turning into a lame duck during his last three years of office.

The Commission fined Hoffmann-La Roche, Archer Daniels Midland, Jungbunzlauer, Haarmann & Reimer Corp and Cerestar a total of €135 million for taking part in a cartel for citric acid, used as a preservative in drinks and tinned fruit between 1991 and 1995.

It fined brewers more than €91 million for taking part in two Belgian cartels in the hotels, restaurants and cafes sector and in the market for supermarket-brand beers between 1993 and 1998. Alken-Maes - then owned by French food group Danone - and Belgian brewing giant Interbrew were fined €45 million and €46 million for their parts in the cartels. They were joined in the supermarket brands cartel by Haacht (270,000 euro) and Martens (270,000 euro).

In a separate decision the Commission also fined three Luxembourg brewers a total of €448,000 for their part in a cartel in hotels, restaurants and cafes in the Grand Duchy. A fourth company - Interbrew unit Brasserie de Luxembourg - escaped a fine because it disclosed the cartel to the Commission.

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