EU Court upholds Akzo Nobel antitrust fine
Europe's highest court has upheld a €21 million fine levied against Dutch chemicals conglomerate Akzo Nobel NV for its part in fixing prices and sharing out markets for the animal feed additive choline chloride.
Choline chloride or vitamin B4 is mainly used in animal feed.
Antitrust regulators at the European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, fined Akzo in 2004 for participating in a cartel for six years with German chemicals giant BASF AG and Belgian drugs company UCB SA in both European and global markets.
Akzo had appealed to the European Court of Justice, arguing the commission was wrong to fine it for the cartel activities of four of its subsidiaries that were commercially independent.
Parent is liable
The European Court of Justice ruled that because Akzo owns 100 percent of the four units, a rebuttable presumption exists that the parent company controls their actions in the marketplace and as such remains jointly and severally liable for any of their anti-competitive behaviour.
The European Commission said the court judgment was an important win for European Union competition law.
"It confirms the Commission finding that a parent company may be held liable for anti-competitive behaviour of its subsidiaries even if didn't itself participate in those activities," it said in a statement.
Complaint in 1999
The EC began investigating companies that manufacture choline chloride after receiving a leniency application from an American company in 1999.
The regulator eventually slapped three corporate families — Akzo, Germany's BASF AG and Belgium's UCB SA — with a total of €66.3 million in fines.
Three North American companies — US-based Bioproducts Inc. and DuCoa LP and Canada's Chinook Group Ltd. — escaped fines because their participation ended in 1994, according to the commission.
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