German electricity company E.ON Energie AG (E.ON) was fined €38 million by the European Commission for breaching a seal during a surprise inspection which took place at E.ON’s premises in May 2006. While carrying out dawn raids European Commission inspectors sometimes physically seal rooms to ensure that evidence is not removed, destroyed or concealed during their absence. Rooms are sealed with a specially designed plastic film which if removed displays a “VOID” sign on its surface. Regulators noticed the “VOID” sign on seals used to secure a room at E.ON’s premises when they returned the following day to review and catalog the documents seized during its inspection, which were collected in the room. E.ON claimed innocence, blaming the broken seal on nearby vibrations, humidity and cleaning products, and reportedly attempted to glue the seal back to its original position. Independent analysts as well as the seal’s manufacturer stated that the seal could not have been compromised by any of the causes E.ON suggested. E.ON also argued that it could not have compromised the sealed room because it had handed over to the EU the room’s only keys. Subsequent investigations, however, revealed that as many as 20 additional keys were held by various E.ON employees.
The European Commission can impose a fine up to 1 percent of the company’s total turnover for intentional or negligent breach of seals. E.ON is the first company to be fined for breaching a seal