ECJ reduces ADM citric acid cartel fine

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Adm European union

Archer Daniels Midland has had is fine for taking part in a 1990s citric acid cartel reduced from €39.69m to €29.4m by the European Court of Justice, as it was not a leader in the cartel.

Citric acid is one of the most widely used additives in the food and beverage industry, acting as an acidulant and preservative. It is used in fruit drinks and fizzy drinks, as well as in jams, gelatine-based deserts and tinned vegetables and fruit.

In 2001 the European Commission fined ADM €39.69m, Hoffmann-La Roche €63.5m, Haarmann & Reimer €14.22m and Jungbunzlauer €17.64m for cartel activities between March 1991 and May 1995. Cerestar Bioproducts too took part from May 1992 to May 1995.

The companies’ secret activities were said to have begun at a Swiss hotel, and involved allocating specific sales quotas, fixed target and/or floor prices, eliminated discounts and exchanged specific customer information.

ADM brought an appeal before the court of First Instance for the Commission’s decision to be annulled, and for a reduction of the fine. When this was dismissed in part, ADM lodged an appeal before the Court of Justice.

Leadership challenged

When the Commission calculated ADM’s fine, it considered ADM to have been a leader in the cartel – a role that carries a larger fine and excludes the possibility of the fine being reduced.

However the Court has now found that in classifying ADM as a leader, ADM relied on evidence annexed to the statement of objections. But since the items of evidence were not referred to expressedly in the wording of the statement ADM was not able to exercise its rights of defence.

The ECJ conclusion is to set aside the judgement of the Court of First Instance in rejecting ADM’s plea on infringing its rights of defence.

In addition, it considers that ADM was not lawfully classified as a leader. This meant that the Court of First Instance could not rule out the application for a leniency notice.

Catalogue of cartels

The identification of the citric acid cartel came close on the heels of the unveiling of several other cartels of the 1990s.

In 2001 the European Commission also imposed €855.22 million in fines on Roche and seven other producers for violating antitrust laws on bulk vitamin sales.

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