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Heavy EC fines for members of battery recycling cartel

Europe – The European Commission has fined Campine, Eco-Bat Technologies and Recylex a total of almost Euro 68 million for breaching EU antitrust rules by fixing the purchasing prices of scrap lead-acid automotive batteries. A fourth company, Johnson Controls, was not fined because it revealed the existence of the cartel to the Commission.

Eco-Bat and Recylex benefited from a reduction in their fines to, respectively, Euro 32.712 million and Euro 26.739 million for their co-operation with the Commission’s investigation whereas Campine’s leniency application was rejected because the company ‘had not disclosed its participation in the infringement’.

However, the Commission reduced Campine’s fine by 5% to Euro 8.158 million ‘as it played a more minor role than the other cartel participants’. The companies took part in the cartel to fix purchasing prices between 2009 to 2012, according to the Commission.

‘Unlike in most cartels where companies conspire to increase their sales prices,’ it continues, ‘the four recycling companies colluded to reduce the purchase price paid to scrap dealers and collectors for used car batteries. By co-ordinating to lower the prices they paid for scrap batteries, the four companies disrupted the normal functioning of the market and prevented competition on price.’

This behaviour was intended to ‘lower the value of used batteries sold for scrap, to the detriment of used battery sellers’. The companies affected by the cartel were mainly small and medium-sized battery collectors and scrap dealers, adds the Commission.

The majority of the anti-competitive contacts between the four recycling companies took place on a bilateral basis, mainly through telephone calls, emails and text messages. ‘The parties were well aware of the illegal character of their contacts and sometimes tried to disguise them by using coded language, for example, referring to weather conditions to signal different price levels,’ the Commission states.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, comments: ‘We do not tolerate behaviour that undermines competition. The four companies have colluded to maximise their profits made from recycling scrap batteries, reducing competition in this essential link of the recycling chain.’

Among responses to date, Eco-Bat has said it is reviewing the decision and has not yet determined whether it will appeal any aspects to the General Court of the European Union.

‘All options, including an appeal, will now be studied’, it is stated by Recylex. As a consequence, the listing of the Recylex shares remain suspended until further notice.

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