ICI fined £63m over involvement in 'tapas bar' cartel

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The Independent Online

Chemical makers including ICI, Arkema and Lucite International were fined €344.5m (£236m) yesterday for fixing the price of acrylic glass used in DVDs, car parts and household appliances. They had forged a cartel that met in hotel rooms and tapas bars.

In total yesterday's fine was the fourth largest imposed by European regulators in a price-fixing case, with the €91.4m (£63m) slapped on ICI the ninth most costly penalty for a cartel offence.

The companies met in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin in October 1999 and the Hatterer's Hotel in Deidesheim, Germany, in August the following year, as well as tapas bars in Barcelona. At the meetings, at which official records or hand-written notes were taken, the companies exchanged commercially sensitive information and agreed and monitored prices for the material.

The scam ran between 1997 and 2002, ending only because the German chemical giant Degussa tipped off European regulators.

For that Degussa escaped punishment, while Arkema, its former parent Total and related businesses received the highest fine of €219.1m. The UK's Lucite International Group Holdings Ltd - which co-operated with the regulator - was fined €25m and the Irish group Quinn Barlo, €9m.

The penalties against Arkema and ICI were doubled for being "repeat offenders", the commission said. Earlier this month it penalised seven hydrogen peroxide makers for price-fixing

ICI said it is considering an appeal. All cartel decisions can be contested in front of the Court of First Instance and then the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Quinn Group, the parent company of Quinn Barlo, is also likely to appeal as it says it was not aware of the cartel until after it bought Barlo Group Plc in a hostile takeover in May 2004.