CNMC fines 3 cartels in the solid fuels trading market with €3.5 million

By Candela Sotes

02-2021

The Spanish Competition authority (CNMC) has imposed a total fine of €3.5 million on six companies for their participation in up to three different cartels involving the exchange of sensitive commercial information, the allocation of customers and the fixing of prices in relation to different types of solid fuels. In addition, five managers of these companies have also been sanctioned with a total fine of €166,700.

According to the CNMC, these practices took place from 1999 to 2018, constituting a single and continuous infringement for almost 20 years.

The solid fuels traded by the companies consisted of metallurgical and petroleum coke, coal, anthracite, foaming agents and smelting additives. All these products are essential for industrial activity, as they are used mainly as sources of energy or to produce other goods.

The CNMC has concluded that the functioning of the three cartels was broadly as follows:

  • One the cartels was formed by the companies Toro Y Betolaza, S.A., Félix De Inchaurraga S.L and Grafitos Barco, S.A. These companies agreed the amounts and conditions under which they were going to supply solid fuels to their clients. Through the exchange of confidential information, they were able to coordinate prices offered to the clients and, in circumstances where there was any deviation in the supplies from the amounts and conditions agreed beforehand, the companies agreed to compensate each other.

According to the CNMC, this behaviour was carried out continuously for 17 years and was closely monitored by the companies' executives, who followed up on the agreements through regular meetings, calls and e-mails.

  • A second cartel was formed by the companies Candel Energía, S.L. and García Munté Energía, S.L., who agreed to allocate customers in relation to the sale of petroleum coke. As in the previous case, there was an exchange of sensitive commercial information carried out by executives of the participating companies, which favoured the allocation of clients and the fixing of quotas and prices.

However, the duration of this infringement was substantially shorter than in the first cartel. The CNMC has concluded that these practices were conducted in 2015 and between 2017 and 2018.

  • Finally, the third cartel lasted only 7 months, and was formed by Candel Energía, S.L and Capex CGC, S.L. These companies exchanged sensitive information on prices and quantities to be supplied to customers via spreadsheets and e-mails, with the aim of fixing prices and allocating customers.

The CNMC affirmed that the companies were aware of the relevance of the information exchanged, since the confidential nature of the information and the need to treat it with discretion were emphasised in their communications.

As well as imposing fines on the companies involved, the CNMC decided to fine five company managers for their active role in the described agreements. Since the first individuals were sanctioned by the CNMC in 2016, there have been a total of eight cases in Spain where sanctions for companies have also been extended to legal representatives or persons that comprise their management bodies. Initially, fines rarely exceeded €20,000, although these have progressively increased, frequently exceeding €40,000, and thereby approaching the maximum limit of €60,000 established by the Spanish Competition Act (e.g. the highest fine imposed in this case amounts to €51,400). However, it is expected that the transposition of the ECN+ Directive will increase this limit up to €400,000.

Interestingly, although none of the investigated conduct consisted of bid rigging practices, the CNMC has proposed to prohibit the contravening companies from entering into contracts with the Public Administration, with the scope and duration of such prohibition to be determined by the National Advisory Board for Public Procurement.

For further information on this case, please refer to the CNMC’s decision (in Spanish).

For more information please contact Candela Sotés.

 
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