The dispute over possible price agreements is being negotiated again. There are negotiations between the confectionery manufacturers and the court and the prospect of a shortened procedure – at least for two companies.
It’s about millions in fines against three confectionery manufacturers for alleged competition violations. The proceedings against the companies Bahlsen, Griesson de Beukelaer and CFP Brands were opened on Tuesday at the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. The cause of the dispute dates back more than 15 years. Now, however, things could happen very quickly.
The presiding judge of the 6th Cartel Senate, Ulrich Egger, held out the prospect of a partial discontinuation and shortening of the proceedings for at least two of the companies – Griesson de Beukelaer and CFP Brands. The court, the Federal Cartel Office and the accused had held several negotiations over the past few weeks. In addition to a slimmed-down collection of evidence and the consideration of a shortened period of offense, this could result in correspondingly reduced fines.
Egger justified this, among other things, by saying that the events went back a long way and that several witnesses had since died. The next session of the procedure is scheduled to take place on November 28th. The verdict against Griesson de Beukelaer and CFP Brands could come later this month. According to the judge, there has not yet been an agreement with Bahlsen. The proceedings against the company could be separated and continued as a separate main hearing in December.
Some companies have accepted penalties
An application for leniency from Mars GmbH triggered an investigation by the Federal Cartel Office in 2008. Leading German confectionery manufacturers are said to have exchanged information about negotiations with the food trade and some planned price increases between 2003 and 2008. The competition authority saw this as a violation of antitrust law and in 2013 imposed fines of 19.6 million euros on members of a working group of the “Conditions Association” of the German confectionery industry. Some companies, including Haribo, Katjes, Kraft, Storck and Zentis, accepted the penalties.
Other defendants – such as Bahlsen, Griesson de Beukelaer and CFP Brands as well as the Federal Association of the German Confectionery Industry (BDSI) – lodged an objection. However, in 2017, the 4th Cartel Senate of the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court not only ruled in favor of the Federal Cartel Office, but also increased the fines to almost 21 million euros. The reason: Although there were no coordinated price agreements, there was a regular exchange of information in violation of antitrust law about negotiations with the food trade and, in some cases, about intended price increases.
Three companies then successfully lodged an appeal against the ruling with the Federal Court of Justice. Due to procedural errors, the verdict was overturned in 2019 and the case was referred back to Düsseldorf. The statement said that essential evidence and statements from witnesses had not been sufficiently assessed.