E.on's EUR 38m fine upheld by General Court
The General Court has upheld a fine originally imposed by the Commission on E.on AG for having tampered with a seal affixed to one of E.on's offices which was being used for internal investigation.
During an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices on the German electricity market, in May 2006 the Commission carried out inspections at the Munich premises of E.ON Energie AG, a wholly-owned subsidiary of E.ON AG. Being unable to complete the inspection in a single day, documents which had been selected for a more detailed examination were placed in a room made available to the Commission by E.ON Energie. The door to this room was locked and an official seal of the Commission was affixed to it. The key to the door was taken by the inspectors. Later, however, it became apparent that 20 other "master keys", which would open the door to the room, were also in circulation.
The Commission’s seals were plastic stickers. If they were to be removed they would not tear but the word "VOID" would irreversibly appears on its surface. When the inspection team returned to the premises on the morning of the second day, it was noticed that the word "VOID" was visible on the seal that had been affixed the previous evening.
EU law provides that the Commission can impose fines on companies of up to 1% of their turnover for breaking, either deliberately or negligently, seals affixed by the Commission during an inspection.
By a decision dated 30 January 2008, the Commission imposed a fine of €38 million on E.ON Energie, around 0.14% of its annual turnover, for having broken the seal affixed during this inspection.
In its judgement the General Court rejected E.on's application for a reduction in the amount fined on grounds that the amount it was fined was not disproportionate to the infringement it had committed.