On 21 March 2018, the Commission also announced it had imposed fines totaling approximately EUR 254 million on eight producers of capacitors for their involvement in a cartel spanning 14 years.
The Commission found that the companies exchanged commercially sensitive information, such as future prices, pricing intentions, future supply and demand information. The anticompetitive conduct was made possible through multilateral meetings, bilateral or trilateral contacts, and price agreements.
The investigation was triggered by the application for immunity of one of the cartelists under the leniency program. Under the Commission’s leniency policy, a company involved in a cartel can come forward and inform the Commission about it and, as a result, receive a full or partial immunity from fines. In this case, one company was awarded immunity, while others who cooperated with the Commission received reduced fines.
This case provides helpful examples of incriminating language, which are likely to attract the competition authorities’ scrutiny and expose the company to breaches of competition rules. The Commission indicates the following examples of language used in communications: “Discard after reading”, “After reading this email, please destroy it without stowing it away” and “Since the gathering should not be disclosed to the public, please be careful when handling the contents of the present report”.
In addition, the cartel involved Japanese companies, which met and were in contact mainly in Japan. However, it was implemented globally, including in the European Economic Area. It is a useful reminder for companies that, even if their anticompetitive contacts take place outside the European Union, their behavior may still be caught by EU competition rules if the collusion has effects on the EU territory. This was confirmed by the EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, who stated that: “[W]e will not tolerate anti-competitive behavior by companies that may affect European consumers, even if the coordination takes place outside Europe.”