The Commission has imposed fines totalling €183,651,000 on the groups BP, Repsol, Cepsa, Nynäs and Galp for participating in a cartel for bitumen in Spain in violation of the EC Treaty's ban on restrictive business practices (Article 81). Between 1991 and 2002, these companies shared the market for bitumen, used for road construction, and coordinated bitumen prices. BP was the first company to come forward with information about the cartel under the Commission's 2002 Leniency Notice and received immunity from fines.
Bitumen is a by-product produced during the distillation of oil. It is mainly used for the production of asphalt, where it serves as an adhesive to bind stones together. The decision concerns bitumen used for road construction not subject to further processing, so-called penetration bitumen.
The value of the Spanish market for penetration bitumen in 2001, the last full year of the almost 12 year infringement, was approximately €286 million.
The Commission investigation started with surprise inspections in October 2002, prompted by an application for immunity lodged by BP under the 2002 Leniency Notice.
From at least 1991 to 2002, cartel members established market quotas, allocated sales volumes and customers between them, monitored the implementation of the market sharing agreements by exchanging sensitive market information, compensated each other for deviations from the market sharing agreements and agreed on the variation of bitumen prices and the moment from which the new prices would apply.
Market sharing discussions were held annually to estimate and distribute the market for the following year. Discussions on market sharing and price variations were held around a so-called "asphalt table" where cartel members participated on a bilateral or multilateral basis. Meetings were held at hotels or the companies' premises. The voluminous document which, at the end of the annual negotiations at the "asphalt table", reflected the market sharing agreement with an allocation of volumes and customers to each participant was given the coded title "Petete" or "PTT" (named after a children's television programme). [3 October 07]