In March 2009, the European Commission's officials carried out so-called dawn raids (unannounced inspections) at the premises of companies active in the North Sea shrimps and related products industry in several Member States.
The investigation revealed antitrust issues that led the Commission to send to the companies concerned a Statement of Objections in July 2012, on which they had the opportunity to comment and to be heard.
In its final decision adopted last 27 November, the Commission fined four European North Sea shrimps traders a total of €28.7 million for operating a cartel in breach of EU antitrust rules.
The companies are Heiploeg, Klaas Puul, Kok Seafood (all established in the Netherlands) and Stührk (based in Germany).
It appeared that these companies agreed to fix prices and share sales volumes of North Sea shrimps for several years in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Klaas Puul received full immunity from fines under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice, as it was the first to inform the Commission of the cartel and to provide it with valuable information about the infringement.
The purpose of the cartel was to freeze the market by stabilizing the suppliers' market shares in order to facilitate price increases and stimulate profitability. The cartel affected the EU market and sales in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands in particular.
The highest fine was imposed on Heiploeg (€27 million).
Any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behaviour condemned by the Commission in this case may bring the matter before the national courts and seek damages.