On 3 May 2017, the Investigation and Prosecution Service of the Belgian Competition Authority imposed a total fine of 1.8 million euros for a cartel between five companies relating to a public procurement organized by Infrabel.

The five companies are ABB, Siemens, AEG, Sécheron and Schneider.

The investigation was launched in 2013 following a leniency application lodged by ABB. Following this leniency application, ABB was granted a total exemption from its fine. Other undertakings that also presented a leniency application were granted a reduction of between 30% and 50%. All the undertakings at stake opted for the settlement procedure, which granted a fine reduction of 10%. 

It should be mentioned that four natural persons also applied for immunity, which they have obtained. Indeed, the Code of Economic Law provides fines for natural persons who take part in a cartel. They can thus also lodge a leniency application to benefit from an exemption from a fine. Those applications are an excellent source of information for the Belgian Competition Authority.

The infringement of competition law in this case concerned the agreement to split among each undertaking the calls for tenders organized by Infrabel relating to a public contract. The undertakings had agreed which company would win the tender by fixing the price of each offer.

As the undertakings decided to accept the settlement decision, no appeal will be possible and therefore the decision is final.

For several years, the Belgian Competition Authority has been stating that bid rigging in public procurement has been one of its main priorities in terms of competition policy. Recently, the Belgian Competition Authority adopted a guide on collusion in public procurement with the aim of informing public entities on the risks of such practice under competition law.

Therefore, this first decision on collusion in a public procurement in Belgium has finally been made by the Belgian Competition Authority in a significant sector of the economy.