Petrol cartel fined 112 million kronor

Sweden's Market Court has more than doubled the penalty handed out to the country's five main petrol companies by the district court almost two years ago.

In April 2003, Statoil, OKQ8, Shell, Preem and the Norwegian company Hydro were found to have shared information and fined 52 million kronor. However, the Swedish Competition Authority, which brought the action against the five companies, had demanded so-called “competition damages” of 650 million kronor.

The case moved on to the Market Court, Sweden’s highest court for cases relating to competition and marketing legislation, after both sides appealed.

Although the fine was far from the 405 million kronor which the Competition Authority had demanded in the second hearing, the general director of the organisation, Claes Norgren declared himself to be satisfied.

“This is a clear signal to the market that cartel behaviour is forbidden. I believe that the judgement is going to be very significant for our continued work in fighting cartels” he told Svenska Dagbladet.

“We didn’t win on all points but we nevertheless see this as a great success.”

Later, he told Swedish Radio that this was the highest fine the Market Court has ever imposed.

The case began in 1999 when the Competition Authority discovered evidence of secret meetings and agreements between the five companies in connection with a discount scheme.

The companies were not punished equally. Statoil, which was considered by the court to have initiated the cartel, was fined 50 million kronor.

“We apologise for the exchange of information – this kind of thing will not happen again,” said Statoil’s head of information, Ulf Svahn. “At the same time it is good that the Market Court stated that no consumers suffered damages.”

OKQ8 faces the next highest penalty, 25 million kronor, while Shell must pay 20 million kronor, Preem 10 million kronor and Hydro 7 million kronor.

Speaking to Swedish Radio, the chairman of OKQ8, Göran Lindblå, was philosophical about the decision.

“The judgement is obviously a setback for the petrol companies if you compare with the district court’s judgement,” he said. “But if you compare with the Competition Authority’s demands it’s a success.”

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, SR