On December 6, 2006, the head of Korea's Fair Trade Commission, Kwon Oh-seung, announced that the KFTC has evidence that four oil refinery firms colluded to fix the price of oil. The announcement follows an investigation the KFTC launched in 2006. The KFTC may issue a follow-up announcement in the next few months that it is taking further action against the refiners. The new evidence suggests a pattern of collusion in the South Korean market for petrochemicals. In 2000, the KFTC imposed fines against five oil refinery firms who engaged in big rigging and restrained the supply of fuel for military use. In 1988, the KFTC imposed fines on six refinery firms who lessened competition in the market for petrochemicals by fixing the basic market shares of 11 products, including gasoline and kerosene.
On December 7, 2006, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced that computer supplier Optima Technology Solutions Pty Ltd. admitted to engaging in resale price maintenance. Optima acknowledged that it threatened two of its dealers that Optima could withhold supply or terminate their dealerships should they not sell products at Optima's suggested retail price. Under section 48 of the Trade Practices Act 1974, which prohibits resale price maintenance, a supplier cannot require a business customer to sell the supplier's goods at a minimum price specified by the supplier. Among its undertakings to the government, Optima agreed to implement antitrust compliance and audit programs and advise its dealers of the lawful terms and conditions by which it will distribute its products. ACCC Chairman Graeme Samuel said, "The outcome of this matter should put the computer industry on notice that the ACCC takes seriously any attempts by suppliers to prevent discounting of their products, and will not hesitate to take action in appropriate circumstances."
On December 8, 2006, the European Commission announced its decision to conduct a full investigation of Universal's €1.6 billion acquisition of German owned Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG). Universal, a subsidiary of the French company Vivendi, is a leading firm in the music recording and publishing business. If the merger proceeds, Universal will acquire BMG's worldwide music publishing business and copyrights to more than one million songs. The Commission estimates that the merged entity would have a market share of approximately 22 percent. Although the FTC and DOJ approved the transaction in November, the Commission is concerned about possible adverse effects on competition in the already concentrated recorded music and music publishing market. "Universal is the strongest player in music recording. After the proposed merger, it would become also the largest music publisher in the European Economic Area," the Commission said in a statement. Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said the Commission will issue a ruling on April 27.
On December 12, 2006, the German district court of Dusseldorf launched the damages trial against six cement producers who, according to the Bundeskartellamt, Germany's cartel office, engaged in price fixing between 1993 and 2001. A Belgian firm, Cartel Damages Claims, instituted the action against the companies. Germany introduced a new cartel law in July 2005. The law provides for private damages but it is unclear whether it can be applied retroactively and to this case. The court is expected to render its decision in February 2007. In 2004, the Bundeskartellamt fined the same six firms record fines of €660 million for conspiring, since the 1970s, to maintain artificially high prices by fixing production quotas and agreeing to divide certain geographic markets among themselves.
Also on December 12, 2006, the Paris Court of Appeal upheld record fines of €534 million imposed on the three largest mobile phone operators in France for engaging in anticompetitive conduct. France's competition authority imposed its highest ever fines after determining in 2005 that Vivendi SA, France Telecom SA and Bouygues SA unlawfully engaged in monthly exchanges of sales data from 1997 to 2003. The authority released a 90 page report that cited, among other evidence, handwritten notes explicitly mentioning an "agreement." The court rejected the companies' argument that the information sharing was not anticompetitive because it concerned past, not projected, sales.
On December 14, 2006, the European Court of First Instance upheld nearly the entire amount of a €124.26 million fine the European Commission imposed on a cartel of Austrian banks known as the "Lombard Club." The cartel's price fixing scheme was so extensive it covered all of Austria, "down to the smallest village," with the three major Austrian banks carrying out a central function for smaller regional banks and banking cooperatives. The banks did not deny their participation in the cartel but sought an annulment or reduction of the fine on the grounds that the Commission committed certain errors in calculating it. The CFI held that the Commission's calculations were correct. The Commission was entitled, the CFI found, to increase the market shares of each of the three major banks by the market share of smaller banks to obtain a correct evaluation of the major banks' actual capacity to distort competition and the proportionate weight of their misconduct. The CFI reduced the fine imposed on one bank, Osterreichische Postsparkasse AG, from €7.59 million to €3.795 million, because the Commission used insufficiently reliable documents to determine the original fine.
On December 21, 2006, the UK's Office of Fair Trading announced that it is considering referring the airport services sector to the Competition Commission for a detailed market review. The investigation would concern airports owned by BAA llc, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. BAA's airports account for 60% of all airport travelers in England. The OFT will consult with industry and interested parties until early February before making a decision whether to refer the sector to the CC. The OFT may make a market investigation reference to the CC where it has reasonable grounds for suspecting that features of the market in question prevent, restrict or distort competition. The OFT already concluded, after conducting its own preliminary study, that the industry's "current market structure does not deliver best value for air travellers in the UK and that greater competition within the industry could bring significant benefits for passengers." In describing BAA's airports generally, the OFT cited "evidence of poor quality and high charges," even though Heathrow and Gatwick Airports are price-regulated. The OFT also found that BAA's "investment plans have raised…significant concerns among its customers." The OFT believes "these are signs of a market not working well for consumers" and that a full inquiry into BAA's structure is required’.