Brussels, 11 March 2008
Antitrust: Commission fines providers of international removal services in Belgium over €32.7 million for complex cartel
The European Commission has imposed fines, totalling € 32 755 500, on Allied Arthur Pierre, Compas, Coppens, Gosselin, Interdean, Mozer, Putters, Team Relocations, Transworld and Ziegler for fixing prices, sharing the market and bid rigging for international removal services, in violation of the EC Treaty's ban on cartels (Article 81). The cartel operated for almost nineteen years (from October 1984 to September 2003). Cartel members fixed prices, presented bogus quotes to clients and compensated each other for lost bids. Allied Arthur Pierre's fine was reduced by 50% because it cooperated in the investigation under the Commission's 2002 Leniency Notice. The case was investigated on the Commission's own initiative.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "Clients of international removal companies have been cheated for almost two decades. Fortunately, the Commission discovered this cartel on its own initiative, demonstrating that the Commission has independent means to detect cartels and is using them successfully."
The Commission started an investigation at its own initiative with surprise inspections, carried out at the premises of Allied Arthur Pierre, Interdean, Transworld and Ziegler in September 2003 in Belgium. The inspections proved particularly successful and abundant evidence of cartel activities was obtained.
After the inspections, Allied Arthur Pierre submitted a leniency application under the 2002 Leniency Notice (see IP/02/247 and MEMO/02/23) and provided the Commission with evidence of significant added value.
The cartel covered international "door-to-door" removals to and from Belgium. The companies agreed on prices, attributed removal contracts by way of bid rigging in the form of bogus quotes called "cover quotes" and benefited from a system of financial compensation for lost bids, called "commissions". These commissions were a hidden element of the final price that the consumer had to pay.
From the mid 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s the cartel operated on the basis of written price fixing agreements. In parallel, arrangements on "commissions" and "cover quotes" took place. Cartel members invoiced each other the lost bid commissions by way of bills. They also cooperated in order to submit bogus quotes that made clients falsely believe that they had a choice based on competition.
These practices constitute very serious infringements of EC Treaty antitrust rules. In setting the fines, the Commission took into account the duration and the gravity of the infringement.
Exel Investments Limited, a former parent company of Allied Arthur Pierre, cannot benefit from the leniency granted to Allied Arthur Pierre because Exel Investments Ltd. could have applied for leniency but chose not to do so.
The Commission sees no grounds for reducing the amounts of the fines of four undertakings, who claimed their inability to pay, but the Commission exceptionally took into account the inability to pay and particular circumstances concerning the individual situation of a fifth undertaking, Interdean, and reduced its fine by 70%.
The amounts of the fines per undertaking are specified below:
* Legal entities within the undertaking may be held jointly and severally liable for the whole or part of the fines imposed
Action for damages
Any person or firm affected by anti- competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages, submitting elements of the published decision as evidence that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Even though the Commission has fined the companies concerned, damages may be awarded without these being reduced on account of the Commission fine. A Green Paper on private enforcement has been published (see IP/05/1634 and MEMO/05/489).
For more information on the Commission's action against cartels, see MEMO/08/154.