At the end of March, the Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, imposed fines amounting to around 21 million euros against the so-called “Sanitär-Kartell” (cartel in the sanitary sector) on account of anti-competitive agreements.
GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: Ten cartel members must pay fines totalling around 21 million euros for concluding anti-competitive agreements. According to information provided by the Bundeskartellamt, the companies had been coordinating, among other things, gross prices, purchasing conditions, discounts and other current developments. As a result, a clear alignment of prices emerged and competition was severely restricted between the companies.
What stands out in this case is that technical developments also need to be taken into consideration in antitrust law, as the agreements between the companies date back to as early as the 1970s and were not initially the subject of complaints from the competition authorities. This was partly due to the fact that the technical possibilities of companies at that time were considerably more limited than is the case today. The Bundeskartellamt noted that it was not possible for small and medium-sized companies back then to produce their own price calculations for a large number of products and print them in catalogues. However, this has changed over time. It therefore went on to say that this technical justification is obsolete and thus no longer applies. Consequently, the companies in question would have been obligated to reassess and cease their anti-competitive conduct.
The fact that all of the companies involved cooperated in uncovering the cartel was viewed as a mitigating factor when calculating the fines.
Violations of antitrust law may be met with tough sanctions. In addition to fines, companies can also be faced with damages claims or criminal penalties. Infringements of antitrust or competition law relate not only to illegal agreements concerning prices and quality but also sometimes seemingly trivial clauses. Lawyers who are competent in the field of antitrust law can provide preventative advice, review agreements with a view to possible violations of competition law and find targeted solutions together with companies. This is particularly relevant in cases involving corporate transactions. In this way, it is possible to prevent potentially time-consuming and costly legal disputes at a later date.