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EU Court upholds EUR 57m fine on bathroom cartel

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EU Court upholds EUR 57m fine on bathroom cartel

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(LUXEMBOURG) - The EU's General Court upheld Tuesday a fine of EUR 57 million imposed by the EU on Sanitec Europe and its subsidiaries in the context of the cartel on the bathroom fixtures and fittings market.

In 2010, the Commission imposed fines totalling more than EUR 622 million on 17 bathroom equipment manufacturers for taking part in a cartel in the bathroom fixtures and fittings sector. The EU executive found that the undertakings had regularly taken part in anticompetitive meetings over various periods between 1992 and 2004 in Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria.

The conclusion was the coordination of annual price increases and other pricing elements and the disclosure and exchange of sensitive business information amounted to a cartel. The infringement covered taps and fittings, shower enclosures and accessories, and ceramic ware.

A number of the companies brought actions before the EU's General Court seeking annulment of the decision and/or reduction of the fines.

In a 2013 judgment, the General Court (i) dismissed the actions brought by certain of those companies and (ii) partly annulled the Commission's decision with regard to the other companies and, in some cases, reduced or even annulled the fines imposed on them.

 As regards fines of EUR 57.69 m imposed on the company Sanitec Europe and its subsidiaries at the time (namely, the companies Keramag Keramische Werke, Koralle Sanitärprodukte, Koninklijke Sphinx, Allia, Produits Céramiques de Touraine and Pozzi Ginori), the General Court annulled the fines of EUR 7.11 m imposed on Allia and Produits Céramiques de Touraine and consequently reduced the amount of the fines jointly and severally payable by the Sanitec group (that amount thus passing from EUR 57.69 to EUR 50.58 million).

The Commission appealed before the Court of Justice against the General Court's judgment relating to Sanitec Europe and its subsidiaries.

The Court of Justice in 2017 set aside that judgment in part and referred the cases back to the General Court for judgment. In essence, the Court of Justice found that, with regard to the question of Allia and Produits Céramiques de Touraine's participation in the cartel on prices of ceramics, the General Court had infringed the obligation to state reasons and the rules applicable to the taking and appraisal of evidence by failing, inter alia, to carry out a complete examination of the Commission's decision and of the evidence, to examine the probative value of certain evidence mentioned in the Commission's decision and to ascertain whether the evidence, viewed as a whole, could be mutually supporting.

In today's judgment, the General Court reassessed, in accordance with the judgment of the Court of Justice of 26 January 2017, the probative value of the evidence relating to Allia and Produits Céramiques de Touraine's participation in the cartel on prices of ceramics in France.

In that reassessment, the General Court revisited the analysis undertaken in its judgment of 16 September 2013. It considered that, taken as a whole, the pieces of evidence submitted to it for assessment demonstrate that Allia and Produits Céramiques de Touraine did participate in the alleged cartel.

The General Court thus recognised that the Commission was fully entitled to impose fines of EUR 7.11 m on Allia and Produits Céramiques de Touraine. The General Court ultimately upheld the fine of EUR 57.69 million imposed on the Sanitec group.

Judgment in Joined Cases T-379/10 RENV Keramag Keramische Werke GmbH and Others v Commission and T-381/10 RENV Sanitec Europe Oy v Commission


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