Bathroom cartel in hot water with EU

City A.M. Reporter
EU competition regulators yesterday fined 17 bathroom fittings companies a total of €622m (£511m) for fixing prices, with five receiving lower penalties because of the economic crisis.

The European Commission, the European Union competition watchdog, said the companies operated a cartel between 1992 and 2004 in Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Ideal Standard, which makes and sells American Standard bathroom ceramics and other products, received the biggest fine at €326m – a penalty that had been reduced by 30 per cent because the company cooperated with the regulator. The other companies include Artweger, Cisal, Dornbracht, Duravit, Duscholux, Grohe, Hansa, Kludi, Mamoli, Roca, RAF, Sanitec, Teorema, Villeroy & Boch and Zucchetti.

Masco, a US company whose main subsidiaries are Hansgrohe and Hueppe, received immunity as it was the first to provide information about the cartel, the Commission said.

“The cartel will have harmed businesses such as builders and plumbers and, ultimately, a large number of families,” Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement. He said the Commission had not softened its fining policy despite the reduced penalties.

“We consider a positive reaction to an inability-to-pay request as an exception, not a rule”, Almunia told a news conference.