The lengthy legal battle over a cartel of confectionery manufacturers is almost over. The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court announced a judgment on Tuesday according to which the Bahlsen company must pay around 3.56 million euros due to an exchange of information that violated antitrust law. For the company Griesson de Beukelaer it is 2.25 million and for CFP Brands it is 0.45 million euros.
Originally, higher fines were planned - but before the verdict, the companies had reached an agreement with the court. The allegations were narrowed down and the judges assessed the companies' actions at the time in a more lenient light. In its ruling, the court also pointed out that food retailers have strong market power over manufacturers.
It was about the fact that the companies had discussed the status of negotiations with the food retail sector as part of an industry working group between 2006 and 2008. Because the events went back so far, the court decided not to take full evidence again.
In 2013, the Federal Cartel Office imposed fines on a total of eleven candy manufacturers for various reasons. Some companies filed an objection at the time, after which the dispute went to court in several instances. Now a judgment has been made against the last three companies affected (file number V-6 Kart 9/19 OWi). The verdict is not yet legally binding. However, given the prior agreement between the parties, it is not very likely that legal action will be taken.
At the start of the proceedings in mid-November, the agreement had already been reached at Griesson de Beukelaer and CFP Brands - initially not at Bahlsen. The presiding judge Ulrich Egger then announced that the Bahlsen proceedings could be separated and continued in a separate main hearing. But later there were further discussions with Bahlsen and finally an agreement. The proceedings are now ending after four days of main proceedings, significantly earlier than planned.
A spokeswoman for Bahlsen emphasized that the allegations of alleged price fixing had been dropped. "The reason for the fine now being imposed is rather the exchange of information within the confectionery industry, which primarily served to protect against special demands from the food retail sector, which were largely inadmissible."
A spokesman for CFP Brands pointed out that, according to a Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court ruling from 2017, they were even supposed to pay five million euros. After a successful appeal to the Federal Court of Justice, the matter ended up before the Higher Regional Court again, and the company now has to pay less than a tenth of the original sum. They agreed to the termination of the proceedings “in order to conclude an excessively long procedure that was conducted in an excessively long manner”. Griesson de Beukelaer declined to comment.
Industry experts noted the end of the litigation positively. “This is the best solution for everyone involved,” said Düsseldorf antitrust lawyer Johann Brück, pointing to the long time lag between the acts of which the companies were accused. "Who would have produced memories that have not long since been recorded? The proceedings would have become a complete farce."