The European Commission has imposed a record fine of over E750 million on 11 groups of companies, after uncovering their participation in a cartel for gas insulated switchgear projects, a cooperative effort in violation of EC Treaty antitrust rules banning restrictive business practices.

<p>The European Commission (EC) named the switchgear companies, which are engaged in producing heavy electrical equipment used to control energy flows in electricity grids, as ABB, Alstom, Areva, Fuji, Hitachi Japan AE Power Systems, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Schneider, Siemens, Toshiba and VA Tech. <br /><br />In a statement, the EC said: Between 1988 and 2004, the companies rigged bids for procurement contracts, fixed prices, allocated projects to each other, shared markets and exchanged commercially important and confidential information.<br /><br />The commission commented that the cartel had agreed that the Japanese companies would not sell in Europe, and that European companies would not sell in Japan. The commission said that, despite their nearly total absence from the market in Europe, it was also fining the Japanese switchgear companies because their agreement to abstain from bidding contributed directly to the restriction of competition on the EU market.<br /><br />EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, said: The commission has put an end to a cartel which has cheated public utility companies and consumers for more than 16 years. The commission has once more shown that it will not tolerate cartels in Europe and the damage that they do in any area of business.<br /><br />The commission stated that the more than E750 million fine is the largest set of fines ever imposed on a single cartel and that the almost E400 million imposed on German company Siemens is the largest ever fine imposed on a single company for a single cartel infringement.<br /><br />Although ABB would have been fined over E215 million for being a repeat offender, the Swiss company was granted full immunity from fines as it was the first company to come forward with information about the cartel. The information provided by ABB and documents discovered by the commission during on-site inspections helped the commission to build the case.</p>