BRUSSELS, June 23 (Xinhua) -- The European Commission on Wednesday fined 17 bathroom equipment producers, including Ideal Standard of the United States, a total of 622 million euros (762 million U.S. dollars) for a price fixing cartel.
"These 17 companies fixed prices for baths, sinks, taps and other bathroom fittings for 12 years in six countries covering 240 million people. The cartel will have harmed businesses such as builders and plumbers and, ultimately, a large number of families," said Joaquin Almunia, the commission's vice president and competition commissioner.
The commission decision showed that between 1992 and 2004, the 17 companies coordinated the sales price for bathroom fixtures and fittings in Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
The coordination took place during meetings of 13 national trade associations in the six EU countries and in bilateral contacts. It consisted of fixing price increases, minimum prices, and rebates, and exchanging sensitive business information.
Ideal Standard was hit with the largest bulk of the fines. It had to pay 326 million euros (400 million U.S. dollars), nearly half of the total.
However, the fines of five companies were reduced because of their likely inability to pay the fine given their financial situation.
"As the objective of anti-cartel enforcement is not to precipitate the fall of companies in financial difficulties, the commission reduced the fines on five companies to a level they could afford," Almunia said.
The EU's antitrust chief said on Tuesday that the financial and economic crisis has caused more and more companies unable to afford hefty antitrust fines.
The commission has been a rigorous guardian of the EU's competition rules, under which a company may be fined as much as 10 percent of its yearly global turnover for each year when it was involved in the cartel.