The European Commission has fined eight suppliers and six purchasers of road bitumen in the Netherlands for participating in a cartel from 1994 to 2002. Fines totalling euro 266.717 million were imposed on 13 of the 14 companies involved.
Suppliers of bitumen as well as purchasing construction companies had been fixing the gross price of all bitumen sold in the Netherlands, according to the Commission's decision. Bitumen is mainly used to make asphalt which is part of road surfacing material. Amongst them, the companies had agreed prices and various levels of rebates for members and non-members. Such an agreement restricted non-members' ability to compete [?] in this limited market.
The large fines issued are due to the serious nature of the infringement in a limited market and the extended duration of the infringement (eight years). Nonetheless, the fines were reduced in line with the Commission's Leniency Notice and, accordingly, BP - having applied to the Commission for immunity owing to full co-operation - received a 100% reduction in its fine, which would otherwise have amounted to € 30.78 million. None of the six purchasing construction companies applied for leniency.
On the other hand, Shell and KWS had their fines increased 50% because of their roles as founders and leaders of the cartel. In addition, Shell’s fine was increased a further 50% for it being a repeat offender and KWS’s fine was increased although less so - 10% - for its refusal to grant the Commission inspectors access to premises, thereby obstructing the course of the investigation.
The fines were calculated according the 1998 Fining Guidelines. More recent Fining Guidelines have since been adopted (please see European Commission’s revised guidelines for setting fines for competition law infringements enter into force above).