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September 8, 2004

EU fines copper cartel $269M for forcing price of plumbing up

BRUSSELS

The European Commission has ordered the main producers of copper pipe in Europe to pay a total of $269 million (all funds U.S.) for operating a cartel that forced up the cost of plumbing in European homes for a dozen years.

The three-year investigation was sparked by a whistle-blower, Mueller Industries Inc. and its affiliates, which escaped any penalty. The commission said it found the cartel ran from June 1988 to March 2001 in most of Europe.

“Because of the companies’ illegal behaviour, European consumers paid more for plumbing replacement work or when buying a house than if the healthy forces of competition had been at play,” EU competition commissioner Mario Monti said.

The plumbing market was worth an annual $1.4 billion in 2000.

The largest fine—$81 million—went to the pipe-manufacturing units of Milanbased Generale Industrie Metallurgiche SpA in Germany, France and Italy.

The IMI group of Britain received the second-largest fine, $54.4 million. Finland’s Outokumpu was third with a fine of $43.7 million. Boliden AB of Sweden must pay $39.4 million.

Germany’s Wieland-Werke and a group of Austrian companies must pay $33.6 million, while Halcor SA of Greece was hit with a $11.1-million fine. The EU also fined HME Nederland BV $ 5.4 million. Over five years, the commission has imposed a total of $5.5 billion in fines for antitrust violations.

The Associated Press

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