On the 21st of February 2018, the European Commission announced that it had fined maritime carriers a total of €395 for participation in a cartel concerning the intercontinental maritime transport of vehicles.
To co-ordinate the cartel, “the carriers’ sales managers met at each other’s offices, in bars, restaurants or other social gatherings and were in contact over the phone on a regular basis. In particular, they coordinated prices, allocated customers and exchanged commercially sensitive information about elements of the price, such as charges and surcharges added to prices to offset currency or oil prices fluctuations.”
What’s remarkable about this cartel in particular is the amount of the fine the Japanese company MOL avoided by leaking the existence of the cartel, under the Commission’s leniency procedure. MOL saved an estimated €203 million, whilst its competitors in the cartel: the Chilean maritime carrier CSAV, the Japanese carriers “K” Line and NYK, and the Norwegian/Swedish carrier WWL-EUKOR, were all fined heavily, of up to €207million each.
The case is also a lesson in historic malfeasance coming back to cost companies dearly. The cartel in question was said to be in operation between October 2006 and September 2012. One of the infringing sales managers in question could have never imagined how their phone calls and meetings in late 2006 could nearly 12 years later result in a fine of around €200m for the company.
What’s worse, each company who participated is now open to being sued by its customers who overpaid for their services. The customers in question will only have to prove the amount of their damages, as the liability and participation in the cartel has been proved by the Commission’s finding, and also each company’s subsequent admittance of their participation, in return for a 10% reduction in their fine.
The case proves that being first through the door to see the EU Commission, even for a historic cartel, could be one of the most cost effective moves a company can make.