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NMa: Imposes fines on 21 producers of concrete paving stones for cartel

The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has imposed fines amounting to more than EUR 2 million on 21 producers of concrete paving stones. These undertakings held periodical meetings in order to coordinate the supply of concrete paving stones to their buyers (local authorities and building contractors). Fines per undertaking rise to a maximum of EUR 474,214.

The undertakings involved generally met twice a month at varying locations in the Netherlands. During these meetings, supplies of paving bricks were divided among participants. The organisation and the chairmanship of these meetings rotated. Market partitioning agreements constitute a grave infringement of the Competition Act, as the undertakings involved eliminated competition by their factual collaboration. Agreements that result in a restriction of competition are harmful to buyers and contravene the prohibition on cartels.

In November 2005, the NMa drew up a statement of objection against the producers on the grounds of their participation in a cartel structure in the sector for paving bricks, at least for the period of 1 January 1998 up until mid 2001. In drawing up the sanctions decisions, the NMa followed accelerated sanctions procedures in order to allow companies to 'come clear' quickly. These procedures entailed that the undertakings were not heard individually, but were given the opportunity to put forward their reaction to the statement of objection collectively, via their representative Mr J.C. (Hans) Blankert. All undertakings involved in the infringement of cartel legislation in the sector for concrete paving stones, have chosen to participate in the accelerated sanctions procedures. The NMa has reduced the fines imposed on these undertakings by 15%, because of their participation in the accelerated sanctions procedures.

The undertakings have to pay the imposed fines within thirteen weeks. As for now, an amount of almost EUR 1 million has been paid or guaranteed. Fine payments received by the NMa are forwarded to the Treasury.

Progress made in investigations into construction industry
Up until now, the NMa has sent statements of objection to well over 1450 undertakings in the construction industry and related sectors, on suspicion of an infringement of the Competition Act. Fines have been imposed on approximately 520 of these (construction) companies. In 2006, the NMa will round off current sanctions procedures in all involved subsectors of the construction industry. The regulator expects to draw up the majority of fining decisions in the accelerated sanctions procedures in July at the latest. This means that for all subsectors in the construction industry the accelerated procedures have been rounded off by now or have reached a final stage. It is no longer possible, therefore, for companies to register for the accelerated procedures, insofar as they have not already done so. Decisions resulting from regular procedures, which have now been initiated for all subsectors, are to follow before the end of the year.

The NMa will continue monitoring the construction sector for compliance with the prohibition on cartels. Undertakings suspecting an infringement of the Competition Act other than the ones already established within the construction sector, may report this to the NMa and submit a request for leniency. On the basis of a leniency request, undertakings may be granted immunity from fining or a reduction of the fine ('leniency'), if they inform the NMa of cartels in which they have themselves participated. It is conditional that undertakings report with the Leniency Office on an individual basis and pass on valuable information. With a view to this, the NMa has drawn up guidelines. The Leniency Office may be contacted via 070 330 1710 (telephone), 070 330 1700 (fax) or email: clementie [at] acm [punt] nl (clementie[at]acm[dot]nl).