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CARTELS : SONY, FUJI AND MAXELL FINED OVER VIDEOTAPE CARTEL.

The European Commission has slapped a fine of 74.79 million on the Japanese firms Sony, Fuji and Maxell (Hitachi Group) for their participation in a price-fixing cartel on the market for professional videotapes sold to European customers, it announced on 20 November.

"Between 1999 and 2002, the three companies met to control prices on Betacam SP and digital Betacam videotapes," explained a spokesman. Sales of these products in Europe amounted to 115 million in 2001. Television stations and independent producers of TV programmes and advertisement films are the main users of such professional videotapes.

Sony was hit with the biggest fine, 47.19 million, followed by Maxell with 14.4 million and Fuji with 13.2 million.

The Commission increased Sony's fine by 30% owing to that company's "obstruction of the investigation" and "absence of cooperation." A Sony employee refused to answer inspectors' oral questions, in breach of the firm's obligation of response, explained the spokesman. Another employee was discovered destroying documents during the investigation.

Fuji and Maxell were more cooperative and their fines were consequently lowered by 40% and 20%, respectively, in keeping with the Commission's 2002 Leniency Notice for firms that blow the whistle on serious violations of rules on concerted practices.

"Very precise information fell into our laps, together with tangible proof of the cartel," the Commission explained, justifying its own-initiative investigation.

During the period in question, Sony, Fuji and Maxell, which together control over 85% of the professional videotape market, met on 11 separate occasions to organise - successfully - three sets of price increases, the Commission states in a press release.

The fine represents the first application of the 2006 guidelines on fines. Under the new method, fines better reflect the overall economic significance of the infringement as well as the share of each company involved.

Customers of the three companies that may have paid too much may bring the matter before the courts of the member states and seek damages, added the Commission spokesman. They may submit elements of the Commission's decision as evidence that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Such "damages may be awarded without being reduced on account of the fine," added the EU executive.

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Publication:European Report
Date:Nov 21, 2007
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