On 18th November 2015 the Italian Competition Authority (the “ICA”) opened an in-depth investigation into four Italian companies (the “Accused Companies”) operating in the market for the production and sale of cement. The companies have been accused of an alleged infringement of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”); the prohibition of anti-competitive agreements or concerted practices.
This is part of the ICA recent focus on cartel activity. The investigation stemmed from a complaint filed in June by a company operating in the production and sale of concrete in the Italian Region of Piedmont.
Concrete is produced by using cement together with other ingredients and the complainant alleged that the Accused Companies had reached an anti-competitive agreement on the sale price of cement. In particular, the complainant pointed out that the Accused Companies sent letters to it (and other customers), communicating the identical increase in price for the supply of cement as of the same date (15th June 2015).
The ICA found that the simultaneous communications forwarded to all the customers of the Accused Companies -- entailing the identical increase in price in the same period -- may be considered as strong evidence of a coordinated strategy aimed at controlling the prices applied in the relevant downstream market (the concrete sector).
The ICA argued that the alleged anti-competitive strategy of the Accused Companies may also be demonstrated by the absence of an objective reason for such behaviour.
Therefore, the ICA held that the Accused Companies’ conduct could not be the result of true competition and independent commercial policies. Indeed, through this strategy the Accused Companies would sustain far lower costs which they would have borne by competing among them.
However, the alleged wrongdoing is not proven at this stage and the investigation continues.