EC slams Siemens cartel with biggest fine ever

The European Commission has meted out its biggest-ever fine against a single company for cartel involvement by landing German conglomerate and Gleiss Lutz client Siemens with a €396m (£261m) penalty.

Siemens was fined for its lead role in a cartel in the heavy electrical equipment market. In total, the cartel was fined €750m (£494m), the largest fine DG Comp has handed out for a single cartel.

Siemens is to appeal the fine at the Court of First Instance.

Notably, four members of the cartel were Japanese companies Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Hitachi and Fuji. DG Comp said there was an unwritten agreement between the Japanese companies to stay out of the European market in return for reciprocity from the European companies.

A statement from the Commission read: “The Japanese companies have also been fined, despite their nearly total absence from the market for GIS in Europe, because their agreement to abstain from bidding contributed directly to the restriction of competition on the EU market.”

Mitsubishi, advised by Baker & McKenzie, received the second-highest individual fine at €118.6m (£78m).

The 11 members of the cartel instructed Europe’s finest competition lawyers. Toshiba instructed White & Case, Hitachi used Allen & Overy, Fuji called in Slaughter and May, Areva used Shearman & Sterling, Alstom instructed Lovells, for Schneider was Bredin Prat and Siemens’ Austrian subsidiary called in Schoenherr.

Swiss-Swedish electrical engineering company ABB, which instructed Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, escaped a fine by whistle-blowing on the cartel.

DG Comp recently changed the leniency rules (, 8 December) to encourage companies to come forward with information on cartels.

Ashurst’s Brussels managing partner Julian Ellison, who was not involved in the case, said: “These enormously high fines impact directly on the bottom line. It’s career-ending stuff.”

Ellison predicted that with harsher consequences for cartel activity, companies would begin to undertake US-style legal audits as a matter of precaution. The forensic analyses of a company’s activities have been considered too burdensome by European corporates, he said, up until now.