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European Commission sends statement of objections to suspected ‘trucks cartel’ firms

The European Commission has informed a number of heavy and medium-duty truck producers that it suspects them of having participated in a cartel in breach of EU antitrust rules.

The Commission said on 20 November that it has “concerns that certain heavy and medium-duty truck producers may have agreed or coordinated their pricing behaviour in the European Economic Area (EEA)”.

If proven, this would breach the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the Agreement on the EEA, which prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices, the Commission said.

The Commission said it has sent a ‘statement of objections’ to the producers, which is a formal step in the Commission’s investigations into suspected violations of antitrust rules.

“The sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation,” the Commission said. “It informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. The addressees can examine the documents in the Commission's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities.”

Competition litigation specialist Ben Lasserson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: “Whilst the issuing of a statement of objections is clearly significant, it still remains to be seen whether the Commission will ultimately conclude that there has been an infringement of competition law by these producers.”

The Commission said that if, after hearing the parties’ defence, it concludes there is “sufficient evidence of an infringement”, it can issue a decision prohibiting the conduct and impose a fine of up to 10% of a company's annual worldwide turnover.

The Commission’s move follows the start of unannounced inspections announced in January 2011 at the premises of companies active in the truck industry in several EC member states.

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