Heineken and Grolsch fined for price-fixing

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Heineken and Grolsch have been fined by the European Commission after having been found guilty of price-fixing in the Netherlands beer market.

The Dutch brewers, along with rival Bavaria , were fined a total of more than €273.7 million (£185 million) by EU regulators for operating an illegal cartel, which the InBev group was also involved in.

In a statement the European Commission (EC) said that the cartel was found to have operated for at least the period between 1996 and 1999, during which the companies colluded to fix prices during unofficial meetings.

Evidence of the existence of the cartel was provided by InBev, who evaded a fine after providing information to the commission under its leniency programme.

Regulators said that handwritten notes taken at unofficial meetings between the four brewers also revealed the times and dates of their discussions, with the companies said to have taken measures such as the adoption of code names to avoid their illegal activity being uncovered.

High-ranking members of the beer companies, including board members, are said to have participated in the illusive discussions, which it was revealed often took place within hotels and restaurants.

During the meetings, Heineken, Grolsch , Bavaria and InBev coordinated their price structures for both the on-trade market, covering beer sold for consumption in hotels, restaurants and other premises, and in the off-market sector, including that sold through supermarkets.

The EC said the actions taken by the companies represented a "very serious infringement" of EU anti-trust rules and that the fines imposed on three of the brewers took into account the size of the market for their products and the size of each company.

Heineken received the largest fine at €219.27 million (£148 million), while Grolsch was ordered to pay €31.65 million (£24 million) and Bavaria €22.85 million (£15 million).

"It is unacceptable that the major beer suppliers colluded to hike up prices and carve up the market between themselves," competition commissioner Neelie Kroes commented.

"The highest management of these companies knew very well that their behaviour was illegal, but they went ahead anyway and tried to cover their tracks," she added.

The Dutch brewers have yet to respond to the EC decision.

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