Brussels, 4 June 2010
The Commission has opened formal proceedings against French group Suez Environnement over an alleged breach of a seal affixed during an inspection by the Commission in April at the premises of the French group's subsidiary, Lyonnaise des Eaux. The opening of proceedings is without prejudice to the final decision.
From 13 to 16 April 2010 the Commission carried out surprise inspections in France at the premises of various companies operating in the water and waste water sectors, including Lyonnaise des Eaux. The Commission suspects anti-competitive practices to take place in this sector (see MEMO/10/134).
During the inspection at the premises of Lyonnaise des Eaux, which is fully owned by Suez Environnement, a seal affixed on the door of an office was apparently breached. If the Commission finds that seals affixed during an inspection have been breached intentionally or negligently, it can impose a fine on the companies concerned amounting to 1% of their total turnover in the preceding business year (Article 23(1)(e) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2003).
The power to carry out inspections is one of the most important powers of investigation the Commission has been empowered with by the European legislator to detect infringements to competition rules. During such inspections, the Commission can affix seals to prevent the destruction or removal of documents.
The companies' rights of defence will be fully respected.
These proceedings are separate from the current investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices in the water and waste water markets.
It is not the first time the Commission is confronted with an alleged violation of procedural provisions relating to investigation in competition cases. In January 2008 the Commission took a decision concerning E.ON for breaching a seal (see IP/08/108 and MEMO/08/61). Last week, the Commission also announced the opening of formal proceedings against J&T Group (see IP/10/627).