NMa Fines 22 Construction Companies for Cartel Agreements
The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has imposed fines on 22 construction companies for infringing the cartel prohibition. The construction companies were fined for price fixing, market sharing agreements and bidrigging. The infringements took place after the Competition Act entered into force on 1 January 1998. This concludes NMa's first series of investigations into the construction sector.
In a number of cases, which have now been completed, NMa based its investigation partly on the so-called 'parallel accounts' of the construction company Koop Tjuchem, which were made available at the end of 2001. In other cases, NMa based its investigation on information provided by informers or data from NMa's own investigation. On the basis of this information, NMa carried out far-reaching investigations into the various specific cases. In the case of a large number of construction companies, NMa conducted unannounced on-site inspections at companies and demanded access to relevant documents and computer files. A number of people were also questioned. As a result of these prohibited agreements, competition in the construction industry was seriously impeded to the disadvantage of customers. NMa therefore regards these practices as very serious infringements of the Competition Act.
NMa has imposed fines in the following cases:
- NMa has fined nine construction companies for bidrigging agreements in relation to the maintenance of roads in the provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe. These cases involve the following companies: Ballast Nedam Infra Noord Oost B.V. (EUR 240,000), Koop Tjuchem B.V. (EUR 677,000), Oosterhof-Holman Infra B.V. (EUR 313,000), Reef Infra B.V. (EUR 429,000), Wegenbouwmaatschappij J. Heijmans B.V. (EUR 289,000), Koninklijke Wegenbouw Stevin B.V. (EUR 240,000), BAM NBM Wegenbouw Noordoost B.V. (EUR 585,000) and Vermeer Infrastructuur B.V. (EUR 327,000);
- The case of the so-called 'Noord-Holland Eight' or the 'Schiphol Eight' involved a continuous bidrigging process regarding the procurement of fifteen large infrastructural projects in the region of Haarlemmermeer/Schiphol. Fines were imposed on the following companies: Ballast Nedam Infra Noord West B.V. and Ballast Nedam Infra B.V. (EUR 14,548,000 jointly), HBG Civiel B.V. and Hollandsche Wegenbouw Zanen B.V. (EUR 14,436,000 jointly), Vermeer Infrastructuur B.V. (EUR 11,248,000), Koninklijke Wegenbouw Stevin B.V. (EUR 18,429,000), NBM Noord-West B.V. (EUR 12,190,000), Wegenbouwmaatschappij J. Heijmans B.V. (EUR 13,874,000), Koop Tjuchem B.V. (EUR 6,283,000) and Ooms Avenhorn B.V. (EUR 3,604,000);
- The case concerning the construction of athletic tracks involved market sharing agreements over a number of years between the five most important companies active in the area of the construction, renovation and maintenance of synthetic athletic tracks. The agreements related to athletic tracks constructed or maintained throughout the country. For this, fines were imposed on the following companies: Groenewoud Sport & Recreatie B.V. (EUR 450,000), Arcadis PlanRealisatie B.V. (EUR 369,000), Van Gelder Cultuurtechniek B.V. (EUR 67,000), Ingenieursbureau Oranjewoud B.V. (EUR 1,213,000), Aannemingsbedrijf Van Lee B.V and Heijmans Sport en Groen B.V. (EUR 610,000 jointly);
- NMa imposed a fine for an anticompetitive agreement between Heijmans Beton- en Waterbouw B.V. and Solétanche Bachy France S.A. in relation to the permanent exchange of sensitive competitive information and the exclusion of competition in relation to civil engineering concrete work, in which special foundation techniques were applied. Fines were imposed on Heijmans N.V. (EUR 50,000) and Solétanche Bachy France S.A. (EUR 50,000). NMa investigated the relationship between Heijmans and Solétanche following a complaint filed by the municipality of Amsterdam in relation to tendering for parts of the North-South underground;
- The recent tendering agreements with regard to the upgrading of the Mokerstraat and Aambeeldstraat in northern Amsterdam is a relatively small project. NMa took action against this because the prohibited agreements were concluded at the moment that the Parliamentary inquiry into the construction industry was reaching its conclusion and NMa had explicitly stated that it would take action against bidrigging schemes in the construction industry. In this case, fines were imposed on the following companies: Floris Aannemingsmaatschappij B.V. (EUR 14,400), Zandrema B.V. (EUR 8,900), Aannemingsbedrijf AC de Groot B.V. (EUR 2,600). Leniency was granted in this case to two companies. This resulted in a reduction of fines by 70% in the case of Aannemingsbedrijf De Groot and 25% in the case of Floris Aannemingsmaatschappij.
These fining decisions were taken on the basis of reports drawn up by NMa following the investigations and after hearing the companies The parties may still file an administrative appeal (with NMa) against these decisions. Thereafter they may lodge a judicial appeal (with the District Court of Rotterdam) and subsequently a further judicial appeal (with the Trade and Industries Appeals Tribunal).
The fines imposed by NMa are determined on the basis of NMa's Guidelines for the Imposition of Fines. In the case of the procurement in northern Amsterdam, the fines of two of the three companies were reduced because these companies were able to benefit from the leniency programme. In other words, these companies voluntarily provided NMa with full information regarding the practices in which they were involved and, by doing so, facilitated NMa's investigation. In recognition of this, NMa granted a (substantial) reduction in the fines.
Since the start of the investigations into the construction sector at the end of 2001, NMa earlier fined four companies for a bidrigging agreement in the municipality of Scheemda. NMa's investigations in this sector continue. At present, NMa still has various cases under investigation and is processing several reports.
Within the framework of its current investigation, NMa recently imposed several fines for failure to cooperate. GTI Utiliteit Noord B.V., Homij Technische Installaties B.V., and Van Hattum and Blankevoort B.V. received the maximum fine of EUR 4,500 for each infringement. A former director of an installation company was personally fined EUR 2,250 for his refusal to cooperate.