MOL avoids fine in EC cartel investigation

The DG Competition of European Commission (EC) has announced that several companies, including Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), breached European competition law with respect to car carrier services. However, MOL fully cooperated with the EC during the investigation, and MOL and its subsidiary companies were exempted from all penalty, including the fine because the EC granted MOL immunity.

“MOL received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel, thereby avoiding a fine of about €203m,” the EC said. MOL offered “sincere apologies” to its valued customers and to the society for their concerns this may have caused. “It is MOL’s principle to do its business in full compliance with the laws and MOL has been compliant with corporate ethics and social norms. We are taking the EC’s announcement very seriously. We are making our best efforts to prevent any recurrence of such issues, to further enhance MOL’s compliance structure, and to regain public confidence,” said the company.

The EC said Wednesday that it had fined four maritime car carriers €395m. The four companies were Chile-based CSAV, Japan’s K Line and NYK, and Norwegian/Swedish WWL-Eukor. All the companies acknowledged their involvement in the cartels and agreed to settle the cases.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said that “the three separate decisions taken today show that we will not tolerate anticompetitive behaviour affecting European consumers and industries. By raising component prices or transport costs for cars, the cartels ultimately hurt European consumers and adversely impacted the competitiveness of the European automotive sector, which employs around 12m people in the EU.”

For almost six years, from October 2006 to September 2012, the five carriers formed a cartel in the market for deep sea transport of new cars, trucks and other large vehicles such as combine harvesters and tractors, on various routes between Europe and other continents.

To coordinate anticompetitive behaviour, the carriers’ sales managers met at each other’s offices, in bars, restaurants or other social gatherings and were in contact over the phone on a regular basis. In particular, they coordinated prices, allocated customers and exchanged commercially sensitive information about elements of the price, such as charges and surcharges added to prices to offset currency or oil prices fluctuations.

The carriers agreed to maintain the status quo in the market and to respect each other’s traditional business on certain routes or with certain customers, by quoting artificially high prices or not quoting at all in tenders issued by vehicle manufacturers.

The cartel affected both European car importers and final customers. In 2016 about 3.4m motor vehicles were imported from non-EU countries, while the EU exported more than 6.3m vehicles to non-EU countries in 2016. Almost half of these vehicles were transported by the carriers that were fined.