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Brussels, 19th March 2009

Antitrust: Commission welcomes European Court of Justice judgment in sodium gluconate cartel case

The European Commission welcomes today’s judgment by the European Court of Justice dismissing the actions by Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), against the Judgment of the Court of First Instance delivered on 27 September 2006 upholding the Commission’s October 2001 decision fining a worldwide Sodium Gluconate cartel (case T-329/01). In particular, the CoJ confirmed the fine imposed on ADM. This judgment is important, because it confirms that the Commission and the Court of First Instance correctly assessed the gravity of this cartel.

On 2 October 2001 the Commission fined six producers of sodium gluconate a total of €57.53 million for participating in a secret worldwide cartel between 1987 and 1995 (see IP/01/1355). Akzo was fined a total of €9 million, ADM €10.13 million, Roquette €10.8 million, AVEBE €3.6 million and Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Company Ltd.  €3.6 million.

The judgment of the Court of Justice

ADM brought an action on 11 December 2006 and relied on 12 grounds of appeal against the contested CFI judgment, all of which relate to the amount of the fine imposed; The CFI was alleged to have committed infringements of various principles governing the setting of the fine, infringements in connection with the criterion of the cartel’s market impact, infringements in connection with the question of termination of the cartel and, finally, in the alternative, an infringement with regard to taking into account an attenuating circumstance.

The Court of Justice rejected all these claims, finding that the CFI correctly assessed the case in upholding the Commission Decision imposing fines for cartel behaviour.

The cartel

Sodium gluconate is a chemical used to clean metal and glass, with applications such as bottle washing, utensil cleaning, and paint removal. The product is also used as a retarder and water reducer in concrete admixtures, as a paper and textile bleaching admixture, as well as an additive in food and in various chemical applications.

In the period 1987-1995, virtually all sodium gluconate produced world-wide was in the hands of Fujisawa, Glucona B.V. (a 50/50 joint-venture between Akzo and Avebe), Jungbunzlauer and Roquette. After it entered the market in 1990, ADM also became a significant player, until its withdrawal in the course of 1995.

From 1987 until June 1995, the above companies held regular meetings, where they agreed on individual sales quotas, fixed "minimum" and "target" prices and shared out specific customers Compliance with agreed sales quotas was carefully monitored by the cartel members, and if a company had over-sold in a given year, its sales quota for the coming year would be reduced accordingly.

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