The European Commission has fined UK business Eco-Bat Technologies €32.7m (£27.9m) for its part in a car battery recycling cartel.
It was found guilty, along with three other companies, of fixing prices paid for scrap automotive batteries, in breach of EU anti-trust rules.
Unlike in most cartels where companies conspire to increase prices, the four recycling companies colluded to reduce the price paid to scrap dealers and collectors for used car batteries.
French company Recyclex was fined €26.7m and Belgian firm Campine was fined €8.2m for their part. US company Johnson Controls was not fined because it acted as whistle-blower in revealing the scheme to the Commission.
EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager (pictured), in charge of competition policy, said: “The companies exchanged information and agreed on target prices, maximum prices and volumes to buy from suppliers.
“They also tried to limit the bargaining power of suppliers by exchanging information about the prices these suppliers offered on the final prices they had agreed to with them.
“Therefore the basic aim in this cartel was the same as in any other cartel. The companies hoped to make higher profits by colluding instead of competing.”
From 2009-12, the cartel fixed the purchase prices of scrap lead-acid automotive batteries in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
By co-ordinating lower prices, the companies disrupted the market and prevented competition. Other used battery sellers affected by the cartel were mainly small and medium-sized operators and scrap dealers.
Communication between the four companies was through telephone calls, emails and text messages. Some contact took place in person.
The parties were aware of the illegal character of their communication and sometimes disguised them by using coded language, for example referring to weather conditions to signal different price levels.
Vestager said the Commission’s fines are generally based on the seriousness of the infringement, the turnover generated by the products affected and the duration and degree of each company’s participation.
In this case, the fines were based on purchase rather than sale prices for the products, with the Commission increasing the fines by 10% to factor in the lowered prices paid.
However, a reduction was also applied depending on how co-operative each company was with the investigations. In this case, Eco-Bat received a 50% reduction, Recylex a 30% reduction, while Campine got no reduction.
The Commission’s investigation started following an immunity application by Johnson Controls in June 2012. In September 2012, the Commission carried out inspections at the premises of several companies in the sector.
In June 2015, the Commission initiated proceedings and sent a statement of objections to the companies. The statement of objections was also sent to a fifth company. However, on the basis of the evidence in the Commission’s file, it decided not to pursue further the investigation against this company.