The European Commission has imposed a total of _74,790,000 fines on Sony, Fuji and Maxell for fixing prices for professional videotapes sold to customers in Europe. The commission found there to be a violation of the EC Treaty's ban on cartels and restrictive business practices. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said, "This decision sends two warnings to companies engaging in cartel activities: first, the Commission can prosecute cartels effectively even without prompts from immunity applicants, and second, obstructing a Commission's antitrust investigation leads to severe penalties." Adrian Pennington reports.
The Commission started an investigation on its own initiative with surprise inspections, carried out at the premises of Sony's, Fuji's and Maxell's European subsidiaries in May 2002. The cartel covers the two most popular professional videotape formats at the time of the infringement: Betacam SP and Digital Betacam, which in 2001 totaled annual sales of some _115 million in the European Economic Area (EEA).
The EC found that Sony, Fuji and Maxell, with a combined share of more than 85% of the professional VT market, organised three successful rounds of price increases and endeavoured to stabilise prices whenever an increase was not possible. They also regularly monitored the implementation of the price agreements.
Between 1999 and 2002, Sony, Fuji and Maxell managed to raise or otherwise control prices through a series of regular meetings and other illicit contacts. Sony's fine has been increased by 30% for obstructing the Commission's investigation during on-site inspections at its premises. Fuji's and Maxell's fines are reduced by 40% and 20% respectively because they co-operated with the investigation under the Commission's 2002 Leniency Notice.