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Cartel proceedings against breweries concluded with imposition of further fines

Date of issue: 02.04.2014

The Bundeskartellamt has imposed further fines amounting to 231.2 million Euros in its proceedings concerning illegal price fixing agreements for beer. The fines were imposed on the companies Carlsberg Deutschland GmbH (Carlsberg), Radeberger Gruppe KG (Radeberger), Privat-Brauerei Bolten GmbH & Co. KG (Bolten), Erzquell Brauerei Bielstein Haas & Co. KG (Erzquell), Cölner Hofbräu P. Josef Früh KG (Früh), Privat-Brauerei Gaffel Becker & Co. OHG (Gaffel), the regional trade association Verband Rheinisch-Westfälischer Brauereien e. V. (Brauereiverband NRW), as well as seven individuals personally involved.

In the proceedings which were triggered by a leniency application filed by Anheuser-Busch InBev Germany Holding GmbH (AB InBev), the Bundeskartellamt had already imposed fines at the beginning of this year on five breweries and seven individuals personally involved which amounted to 106.5 million Euros (see press release of the Bundeskartellamt of 13 January 2014). These fines are now final. The proceedings in the same case against the remaining breweries and the regional trade association have now been concluded as well. The bulk of the fine is imposed on Radeberger, which belongs to Dr August Oetker KG, and on Carlsberg, a subsidiary of the Danish Carlsberg Breweries A/S.

Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt: "With today's decisions we have concluded the proceedings in the beer cartel case. All in all, we have imposed fines of around 338 million Euros on 11 companies, the Brauereiverband NRW and 14 individuals personally involved. The beer manufacturers concerned account for more than half of the beer sold in Germany. The industry's annual turnover amounts to well over seven billion Euros. In view of these figures the high fines are appropriate and necessary to effectively punish the perpetrators."

The fines are calculated according to the seriousness and duration of the offences. Under the German Act against Restraints of Competition (Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen, GWB), the maximum fine is limited to 10% of a company's total turnover. Another significant aspect in the calculation of the fine is the so-called cartel-related turnover, i.e. the turnover achieved with the products that were the subject of the cartel agreement. Large companies that belong to a company group therefore tend to receive higher fines. The Bundeskartellamt will not give information about the individual fines imposed on the respective companies or individuals involved.

The orders imposing the fines are not yet final and can be appealed to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.

In another fine proceeding initiated on suspicion of illegal agreements between several breweries manufacturing "Kölsch" beer, the Bundeskartellamt has discontinued its investigations against the companies and several individuals for discretionary reasons. The authority had investigated whether in addition to the national and regional price-fixing agreements between premium breweries and regional breweries predominantly in North Rhine-Westphalia, there had also been local price-fixing agreements between several Kölsch breweries. It could however not be proved that such local price-fixing agreements were concluded in addition to the existing nationwide and regional agreements.

Another subject of the proceedings was the exchange of information between the competitors on the quantities of beer produced. This practice, which was also deemed anti-competitive, has in the meantime been abandoned.

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