Dutch cartel fined US$ 336 million

29 April 2008

The European Commission has handed out fines totalling € 267 million (US$ 336 million) to 14 companies - eight suppliers and six buyers - that it says fixed prices for road bitumen in the Netherlands for at least eight years between 1994 and 2002.

The suppliers were BP, Esha, Klöckner Bitumen, Kuwait Petroleum, Nynäs, Shell, Total and Wintershall. The purchasers - road building contractors - were Ballast Nedam, Dura Vermeer, Heijmans, BAM, HBG (now part of BAM) and Volker Wessels Stevin.

Shell and Volker Wessels Stevin are said by the Commission to have founded the cartel, and their fines were increased by +50% as a result. A further +50% was added to Shell's fine because it is a repeat offender of anti-trust laws. Shell's total fine was € 108 million (US$ 136 million), the largest of the group. Volker Wessels Stevin's' fine was also increased - by +10% - because the Commission says it tried to obstruct the investigation by twice refusing officials access to its premises.

In contrast, BP was granted full immunity from its € 30.8 million (US$38.8 million) fine under leniency rules, because it informed the Commission of the existence of the cartel in 2002. Kuwait Petroleum's fine was also reduced by -30% for co-operating with the investigation.

Several of the companies involved have expressed surprise at the size of the fines. A statement from Heijmans described its € 17.1 million (US$ 21.6 million) fine as being “disproportional”, while Ballast Nedam was more scathing, saying, “There is no justification for fining Ballast Nedam concerning the purchasing of bitumen, and certainly not with a fine of this size [€ 4.65 million (US$5.86 million)]. Not only has the Commission based its position on inaccurate and incomplete information in the case of Ballast Nedam, it has misjudged and grossly exaggerated Ballast Nedam's role.”

Ballast Nedam said it would appeal against the Commission's decision, and Heijmans and BAM said they were considering similar action.

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