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Business Ethics

Soaring fines for price-fixing hit German companies

Germany's Federal Cartel Office has reported a marked increase in price-fixing activities across many industries. The competition watchdog has levied a volume of fines on firms not seen in years.

The Federal Cartel Office of Germany last year slapped fines of some 303 million euros ($399.5 million) on companies accused of price-fixing activities. According to the newspaper Berliner Zeitung, this is the biggest sum of fines levied by the national competition watchdog since 2008.

The anti-trust authorities said price-rigging had been on the rise for a long time and affected more and more sectors of the German economy.

The biggest fine in 2012 was slapped on a number of companies involved in an ongoing rail cartel investigation, including industrial giant ThyssenKrupp. The fines of altogether 124.5 million euros related to a probe into whether manufacturers made cartel agreements on the supply of rail to Germany's Deutsche Bahn operator to the detriment of customers and the railway company itself.

Sweet secrets?

"The members of the cartel observed quotas, divided up orders among themselves and fixed prices to manipulate the bidding," Cartel Office President Andreas Mundt said in a statement.

Four more companies were fined last year for illegally fixing prices in the German power transformer market. Among others, the case involved German and Swiss engineering firms Siemens and ABB.

In a smaller case, German sweets producer Haribo - best known for its gummy bears - was fined for the banned swapping of sales information with rival producers. Staff of the company had been found to have met regularly with officials from three other sweet producers to informally exchange details on talks with retailers on discounts.

hg/kms (dpa, AFP)