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The European Comm-ission (EC) last month fined eight pharmaceutical companies g855.22m (£533.26) for their involvement in a vitamins cartel.
US firm Jones Day Reavis & Pogue, though, secured immunity for its client Aventis, which blew the whistle on other cartel members. This is the first time that the EC has ever been so lenient to an informant. Aventis is a longstanding client of the Jones Day corporate department. The firm handled the US investigation into vitamin price-rigging, which also featured Aventis as the whistleblower. Having set the ball rolling in the US, Aventis consulted Jones Day in Brussels before approaching the EC with evidence. Under the Leniency Notice, a company that cooperates can be given full immunity from fines. However, unlike in the US, the EC need not make a decision on how to reward whistleblowers until the end of the investigative process. In this case, Aventis approached the EC just before May 1999, but cooperated under the shadow of financial sanctions until the regulator's decision was announced last week. Lead partner on the Jones Day team Bernard Amory said: "Two years is a relatively long period, and at the time you wonder whether it's really worth doing it. But we were very hopeful because the commission wants to give more credibility to the leniency programme, and over the last couple of months it was indicating that we'd get total immunity." Jones Day took a justified gamble that, once Aventis had blown the whistle in the bigger US case, it might as well get in first in Europe and reap the benefits of a change in EC policy. The EC has now clearly set out its stall for the future. Competition Commissi-oner Mario Monti said: "The fact that the commission has granted for the first time a total exemption of fines to a company illustrates its willingness to grant companies that actively cooperate at the earliest stage a unique opportunity to get off the hook. Those companies that do not seize this chance must be aware of the responsibilities they face." The EC has made fighting cartels a priority. Not only is it pumping new resources into the Competition Directorate and attempting to cut out the man-hours spent on routine merger filings, but it is also considering even more leniency for whistleblowers. A draft notice is under consideration, which if implemented will mean that whistleblowers will be told whether or not they get immunity within a matter of days of approaching the EC with incriminating evidence.