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Brussels, 11 November 2004

Statement on investigations in the bathroom fittings sector

Following press inquiries, the European Commission’s spokesperson for Competition has confirmed that, on 9 and 10 November 2004, Commission inspectors, assisted by officials from the national competition authorities of the Member States concerned, launched simultaneous unannounced inspections at the premises of some of the major European manufacturers and importers of bathroom fittings in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Netherlands.

The purpose of these inspections was to find evidence of an alleged cartel arrangement between manufactures and importers of bathroom fittings, most of whom operate on a European level. The manufacturers are suspected of having exchanged information on price increases before their implementation, on rebates and discounts and other sensitive business information such as individual sales data. These practices are suspected of having taken place bilaterally and multilaterally between manufacturers and importers as well as via various trade and industry associations.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The fact that the European 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 European Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

There is no strict deadline to complete cartel inquiries. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate and the exercise of the rights of defence.

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