29. Jan 18

Wallpaper cartel – Heavy fines for illegal price fixing

In its ruling of October 12, 2017, the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Düsseldorf [Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf] imposed fines totalling more than 19 million euros against members of the so-called Tapeten-Kartell, or “wallpaper cartel” (Az.: V-2 Kart 1-3/17).

The 2nd Cartel Division of the OLG Düsseldorf came to the conclusions after 20 days of the trail that the cartel members had entered into illegal price-fixing agreements. According to the Court, the cartelists had agreed to a price increase for wallpaper in Germany to the tune of between 5 and 6 per cent in 2005. The 2nd Division noted that one of the carpet manufacturers as the market leader played a prominent role in this. A further anti-competitive arrangement in 2008 was said to have led to another price increase of about 5 per cent in the German market.

By imposing fines of around 19 million euros in total, the OLG Düsseldorf has in part gone substantially beyond the fines imposed by the Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office. Key to this was the 2nd Division taking the global turnover of the companies in question as its basis. The Bundeskartellamt had already imposed fines in 2014 in the amount of approximately 17 million euros for illegal price-fixing arrangements. Two of the carpet manufacturers then lodged an appeal against this decision at the OLG Düsseldorf, but to no avail. Having said that, the OLG Düsseldorf’s ruling is not yet final.

We at the law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that the carpet manufacturers concerned are not yet able to put the matter to rest, as they might still be faced with damages claims brought by large clients who were harmed by the illegal price-fixing agreements. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of antitrust law can assess whether damages claims are justified and enforceable.

Anti-competitive price-fixing arrangements are a clear violation of antitrust law. That being said, it is possible for violations to occur quite unwittingly and despite this be harshly punished. Even minor details in contractual clauses, for instance, can give rise to violations of antitrust law. For this reason, it is advisable to have agreements reviewed by experienced lawyers with a view to concerns from the perspective of antitrust law.

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