EU raids ABB, Siemens over suspected price-fixing

The European Commission has raided ABB plants in Germany and Siemens plants in Austria and Germany on suspicion of price-fixing for transformers, the European Union executive and companies said February 13.

“I can confirm that we undertook unannounced inspections on the 7th and 8th of February at premises of several power transformer producers in France, Germany, and Austria,” Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said.

He did not identify any of the raided firms, and it was not clear which companies were involved in France.

German engineering group Siemens said its Power Transmission and Distribution (PTD) division had been raided. Its unit VA Tech EBG Transformatoren also was raided in Austria. Siemens said it had suspended three staff suspected of conspiring to fix prices for transformers, key components in electricity transmission and distribution networks.

Only last month, the commission fined Siemens nearly 400 million euros (US$520 million) for fixing prices on electric power switchgear, the EU executive’s second-highest penalty ever levied on a firm for price fixing. (HNN 1/25/07)

Siemens could be fined heavily if found guilty. Under new EU guidelines adopted in July 2006, any fine against it would be doubled because of the company’s previous offense. The EU’s highest court last week affirmed the power of the commission to increase fines for past offenses.

In Zurich, Swiss heavy-engineering group ABB said one of its German plants had been searched.

“We are confirming that there are investigations ongoing in our Bad Honnef, Germany, transformer factory,” an ABB spokesman said.

The commission’s Todd said: “The commission has reason to believe the companies may have violated article 81 of the EC treaty, which prohibits practices such as price fixing.”

Switchgear fines imposed in Czech Republic

Meanwhile, Siemens said it would appeal a 12.4 million euro (US$16.1 million) fine imposed by anti-trust authorities in the Czech Republic.

Czech authorities accused Siemens and VA Tech of collusion in the area of high-voltage gas-insulated switchgear. Siemens said February 12 it considered the fine unreasonably high.

With the acquisition of VA Tech in 2005, and the integration of VA Tech T&D in its PTD Group, Siemens said it assumed financial responsibility for VA Tech, including assumption of any legal consequences resulting from anti-trust violations.

Czech media reported other firms fined included Alstom, Areva, Fuji Electric, Hitachi Ltd., Japan AE Power Systems Corp., Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba Corp., and Nuova Magrini Galileo SpA.

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