The European Commission has warned five recycling firms they are suspected of involvement in a purchasing cartel for scrap lead-acid batteries in breach of EU anti-trust rules.
The unnamed companies co-ordinated their behaviour to maintain higher profit margins, resulting in lower prices paid to scrap dealers for used batteries, the Commission alleged.
A fine of up to 10% of each company’s annual worldwide turnover could be imposed if the Commission finds sufficient evidence of an infringement, after the accused have had a chance to defend themselves.
Such behaviour violates rules that prohibit anti-competitive business practices such as collusion on prices and market sharing (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
Practically all lead-acid batteries in Europe, mostly for cars, are recycled once they are no longer used. Recycling companies buy scrap batteries from various suppliers and extract the lead, which can then be reused for new products.
The Commission said it does not prejudge the outcome of its investigation, which started with unannounced inspections in September 2012, and involves activity in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands from 2009-12.
The five companies have been sent a written ‘statement of objections’. They can examine documents in the investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case.
In unrelated cases, the Commission has fined eight manufacturers and two distributors of retail packaging trays a combined €116m (£82.5m) for being in at least one of five separate cartels.