BRUSSELS, Belgium (Dec. 7, 2007) — The European Commission has fined producers of chloroprene rubber more than $354 million for participating in market sharing and price fixing.
Denka, DuPont, Dow, ENI and Tosoh groups were fined various amounts for participating in a cartel for chloroprene rubber in the European Economic Area in violation of the EC Treaty's ban on cartels and restrictive business practices.
Bayer (now Lanxess A.G.) itself would have been fined $295 million but received full immunity when it was the first company to come forward with information about the cartel under the EC´s 2002 Leniency Notice.
ENI received the biggest fine, about $195 million, which included a 60-percent penalty because it had been fined previously for anti-competitive activities, notably in EPDM.
DuPont was fined about $87 million, which included a 25-percent reduction because of the firm´s cooperation. The bulk of that fine will be paid by Dow Chemical, DuPont former partner in DuPont Dow Elastomers.
Denka in Japan was fined about $69 million, while Japan´s Tosoh was hit with a $7 million fine, which included a 50-percent reduction for the firm´s cooperation.
"It is particularly disappointing that the rubber industry has still not learned its lessons about avoiding cartels," Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement announcing the fines. "I find it very difficult to understand how shareholders and board members can tolerate such illegal behavior."
The commission said that from at least 1993 to 2002, the producers of chloroprene rubber operated a cartel in which they agreed on each other´s market shares and set prices. The companies held regular meetings to discuss prices, exchange sensitive commercial information, discuss specific clients and to follow up the implementation of their illegal agreements.
The investigation started with surprise inspections in March and July 2003, prompted by an application for immunity lodged by Bayer.
The EC also noted that anyone who may have suffered because of the cartel´s action can sue the participating companies for damages.
"Any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behavior as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages, submitting elements of the published decision as evidence that the behavior took place and was illegal," the commission said. "Even though the Commission has fined the companies concerned, damages may be awarded without these being reduced on account of the Commission fine."