BRUSSELS (May 9) — The European Commission is investigating the possibility of antitrust activity in the market for chloroprene rubber.
The EC´s investigation came to light this week in the form of "Statements of Objections" sent to a "number of companies" regarding their alleged role in a cartel for chloroprene rubber. The EC did not add any further details and did not name any of the companies involved.
Statements of Objections are a formal step in European antitrust investigations, according to the commission. After receiving such statements, companies have about two months to defend themselves in writing. They also can ask the EC to hear their case at an oral hearing, which usually takes place about one month after the written reply has been received. Only after having heard the company´s defense can the commission make a final decision, which may be accompanied by fines of up to 10 percent of a company´s worldwide annual sales.
Two years ago the U.S. Department of Justice fined Dow Chemical, DuPont Dow and Syndial (Enichem) a total of almost $100 million for participating in an "international conspiracy" to fix prices of chloroprene rubber from Sept. 1999 to April 2002.
The only CR factory in the European Union is Lanxess A.G.´s plant in Dormagen, Germany. However, Gunther Weymans, senior vice president of Lanxess responsible for technical rubber products, said the company has not received a letter from the EC and is not in involved in the investigation in any way.
None of the other manufacturers of CR was ready to make a statement immediately.
Enichem operated a CR unit in Champagnier, France, until 2005, but closed it after difficulties with raw materials supply.
DuPont Performance Elastomers supplies CR from a factory in the US. It is in the process of opening a new factory and closing an older one there.
Showa Denko operates a plant in Japan and imports CR from there. The CR market is undergoing extremely tight supply following the closure of the Champagnier plant in 2005.