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Brussels, 3rd May 2007
The European Commission can confirm that on 2nd and 3rd May 2007 Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several marine hose producers in France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The function of marine hoses is to transport crude oil and petroleum products, for example for loading and unloading tanker ships. The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated Article 81 of the EC Treaty, which prohibits practices such as price fixing. The Commission coordinated its investigative measures with the US Department of Justice in the context of a suspected worldwide cartel concerning marine hoses.
The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the national competition authorities.
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.