Brussels, 27 November 2002
Commission takes decision against Aventis and Merck in methylglucamine cartel
The European Commission has adopted a decision finding that Aventis Pharma SA and Rhone-Poulenc Biochemie SA, which belong to the Aventis group, and Merck KgaA breached European Union competition rules by colluding to fix prices and marketshares for methylglucamine between 1990 and 1999. Methylglucamine is a chemical substance used in x-ray analyses. The three companies together control the entire production worldwide. In its decision the Commission treated Aventis Pharma and Rhone-Poulenc Biochemie as one company and fined them € 2.85 million. Merck KgaA, on the other hand, benefited from full immunity because it submitted crucial information at a time when the Commission had no knowledge of the cartel. When setting the fine the Commission also took into account the small size of the methylglucamine market, which is the smallest product market for which it has ever adopted a cartel decision.
The Commission's decision found that between November 1990 and December 1999 the three companies formed a cartel in breach of Article 81(1) of the European Union treaty by which they fixed market shares for the product, agreed on price targets and price lists as well as on the sharing of the largest customers. The companies concerned are Aventis Pharma SA and Rhône-Poulenc Biochemie SA, subsidiaries of the Aventis group, and Merck KgaA. They are the only producers of pharmaceutical grade methylglucamine in the world. The market can, therefore, be characterised as a duopoly.
Methylglucamine is a chemical product used mainly in x-ray analyses and pharmaceutical products. The value of the market for methylglucamine in the European Economic Area(1) in 1999 was around EUR 3,1 million.
The probe started in September 2000 when the Commission was approached by representatives of Merck who revealed the cartel and applied for immunity from fines as foreseen in the Commission's Leniency Notice of 1996. In January 2001, the Commission carried out an inspection at the premises of Aventis Pharma and Rhone-Poulenc Biochemie. The investigation culminated with the adoption of a Statement of Objections against the three companies in June 2002.
The Commission took the view that the cartel agreement was a very serious infringement, but considered that Merck fulfilled the conditions for total immunity from fines since it provided crucial information before the Commission was even aware of the illegal behaviour which had, in any case, already ended. It also took into account the small size of the methylglucamine market, the smallest for which it has adopted a cartel decision.
But it imposed a fine of € 2.85 million on the Aventis subsidiaries after granting a 40% reduction to reward them for their co-operation throughout the investigation.
(1)The 15 EU states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein