Phosphates cartel: EU court validates €60m fine on Timab

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/Zerbor
© istock/Zerbor

Related tags: European union

The EU Court of Justice (ECJ) has dismissed the Roullier group’s appeal and confirmed the €60m fine imposed on its subsidiary, Timab, by the EU Commission for its role in a feed phosphates cartel, as valid.

The ECJ agreed with the verdict of the General Court that the EU Commission was justified in the rationale it had used to reach the fine that was imposed on the French company.

The ruling, published today​, tallies with the recent opinion of the Advocate General on the case.

ECJ Advocate General (AG), Henrik Saugmandsgaard, handed down​ ​his judgement in in summer 2016.

He also rejected Timab’s appeal of the General Court’s denial in 2015​ that it had been penalized by the EU Commission, in terms of a higher fine, for having exited settlement talks related to the cartel case.

The EU Commission said it welcomed today's judgment. 

Background

A number of feed phosphate additive companies including Tessenderlo, FMC Corp and Ercros, were fined a total of €175m ($227m) in July 2010 over a 35-year long cartel for price fixing and market sharing in most of the EU.

Yara International and Kemira Oyj received immunity from a fine.

Timab, a subsidiary of the Roullier Group, was the only member of the cartel that did not use the Commission’s cartel settlement procedure, The Commission instigated a standard procedure against Timab and a fast-track one with the other members of the feed phosphate cartel.

However, in spite of the EU regulator downgrading the duration of the firm’s role in the cartel from 26 to 11 years in its final ruling, the penalty ultimately levied against Timab was €59.8m - around 25% higher than that originally proposed by the Commission.

Pressure to settle?

John Cassels, specialist in EU competition and regulation law at Fieldfisher, told this publication, last September he could understand Timab’s frustration in relation to the original decision: “It did look like the company was being punished for withdrawing from settlement negotiations, as the Commission had proposed a much lower fine for cartel members during that process, of somewhere in the region of €40 to €45m.

"The outcome of this legal action, and others, underline the increasing pressure on parties to enter settlement procedures, with national and European level regulators apparently looking to crank out these cases.

"But one could argue that the authorities, in encouraging parties to confess and settle, don’t have to prove their cases, and, ultimately this leads to soft law, and could be damaging to competition law long term.”

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