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Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer's competition department has successfully represented five pharmaceutical companies in the European Commission's recent investigation into vitamin cartels.
Because of potential conflicts it is unusual to represent more than one company, and five is the most ever handled by a single firm. Freshfields handled the five clients at four different offices across Europe. The investigation has been ongoing for two years and many of the clients come from relationships predating the formation of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Hoffman-La Roche, the biggest client and main protagonist in the cartel, was represented by Jochim Sedemund in the Berlin office. The other four Freshfields clients were Sumitomo Pharmaceutical and Sumika, represented by Martin Clausman and Vannessa Turner in Düsseldorf; Merck, represented by Frank Montag in Brussels; and Solvay, which Onno Brouwer in Amsterdam brought over as a client from his former firm, Stibbe. Freshfields said that it put Chinese walls in place to enable it to handle all the cases and it also had the advantage of the lawyers being separated by geography. The involvement of the two Japanese companies Sumitomo and Sumika was almost indistinguishable on the facts so it was possible to handle them together. Freshfields successfully avoided fines for three clients, while Hoffman-La Roche and Solvay did as well as expected, and are pleased with their results. The decision was notable in that the real loser was fellow chemical company BASF, which did not use external counsel, preferring to rely on in-house expertise. BASF received a much bigger fine than it did in a similar investigation in the US. The company is considering an appeal.