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Brussels, 23 March 2001

Statement on inspections relating to the copper tube market

Following press inquiries, the European Commission's spokesperson for competition has confirmed that on 22 March 2001, a number of Commission inspectors assisted by officials of the Member States concerned have carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of five European companies located in the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Finland.

The purpose of these inspections is to ascertain whether there is evidence of a cartel agreement and related illegal practices concerning price fixing and market sharing on copper tubes and fittings. These are used in sanitary equipment as well as water and gas pipes for households and for industrial applications.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

Finally, there is no strict deadline to complete cartel inquiries. Their duration is determined largely by the complexity of each case, the exercise of the right of defence and by the respect of the Commission's consultation and other procedures.

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