EU makes raids in banana and pineapple price-fixing inquiry

Click to follow
The Independent Online

EU competition authorities have raided the offices of Europe's largest fruit distributors, it emerged yesterday, after Chiquita, the world's biggest producer of bananas, blew the whistle on an alleged cartel in the European banana and pineapple markets.

EU competition authorities have raided the offices of Europe's largest fruit distributors, it emerged yesterday, after Chiquita, the world's biggest producer of bananas, blew the whistle on an alleged cartel in the European banana and pineapple markets.

Fyffes, the London and Dublin-listed fruit giant, Dole, the US food company, and Del Monte all admitted that they had been among the targets of the raids, which took place on Thursday.

However, in a statement, Chiquita, which is based in Cincinnati in the US, admitted that it was at the centre of the inquiry, conceding it had recently become aware that several of its employees had been sharing price information with rival companies for "many years".

It said that after discovering the conduct, it had immediately reported its findings to the EU competition authorities, and had been co-operating with their inquiries ever since.

The European Commission confirmed it had carried out a series of "unannounced inspections" at the premises of several producers and distributors of bananas and pineapples in Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

"The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated Article 81 of the EC Treaty, which prohibits price-fixing and market-sharing practices," it said.

It added, however, that the raids did not mean that the targeted companies are guilty, and said that a full-scale inquiry would now be carried out.

Chiquita said that as a result of bringing the alleged price fixing to the attention of the authorities, the Commission had granted the company immunity from any fines which are levied as a result of the investigation.

"The company does not believe that the reporting of these matters or the cessation of the conduct should have any material adverse effect on the regulatory or competitive environment in which the company operates, although there can be no assurance in this regard," it said.

European competition authorities can fine companies up to 10 per cent of their annual sales if they are found in breach of EU antitrust rules, although in practice it has tended to impose much smaller fines. The biggest fine to date - €855m (£577m) - was handed down four years ago for fixing the price of vitamins.

Shares in Fyffes fell 8 cents to €2.23 yesterday, giving the company a market value of €777m. Shares in Chiquita rose slightly, ending up 6 cents at $29.81 in New York.

Comments