Commission fines choline chloride cartel

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Related tags: European union

The European Commission yesterday fined Akzo Nobel, BASF and UCB
€66.34 million for fixing prices in choline chloride.

Also known as vitamin B4, choline chloride is used mainly as an animal feed additive but is also marketed as a supplement and in infant and dietetic foods.

The Commission said that along with US-based companies Bioproducts and DuCoa (acquired by Balchem in 2001) and Chinook of Canada, the companies colluded in secret between 1992 and 1994 to increase prices, allocate world markets and control competitors in the choline chloride market.

Together they controlled around 80 per cent of the world market for this vitamin, worth around €180 million in 1997, the last full year of the infringement.

Akzo Nobel has been fined €20.99 million, BASF €34.97 million and UCB, which has since divested the business, €10.38 million. The other firms escaped fines because they left the cartel more than five years before the investigation began.

In a statement, Akzo said it had intensified its competition compliance programme in 2000, the year after the probe began.

"In view of Akzo Nobel's strong and committed policy to crackdown on any potential cartel issues, the company fully cooperated with the commission in its investigations,"​ it said.

BASF is said to be examining whether to take legal action against the decision. A spokesman for the company told AFX Europe: "As soon as we have had a chance to examine the decision, we will make a statement on the question of an appeal."

The United States charged vitamin producers a record $725 million for price-fixing in 1999, including a $225 million fine for BASF. Two years later, the European Commission fined eight companies a total of €855 million for fixing vitamin prices.

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