According to a decision announced 24 June 2015, the German Federal Cartel Office (the “FCO” or Bundeskartellamt) has imposed fines amounting to 75 million euros on five companies in the automotive supply sector and the staff responsible, which were involved in price fixing agreements regarding so-called acoustically effective components (such as car mats, flooring, and textile wheel house shells) between 2005 and 2013. Based on several bilateral and three different multilateral meetings the fined companies agreed on, inter alia, the passing on of increased raw material prices to their customers, minimum price levels, how far discounts would be granted and coordinated prices in their bids for tenders.
Not all companies were involved in the agreements to the same extent or period of time. Although having also been part of the cartel, no fines were imposed on Johann Borgers GmbH, Bocholt. The company was favored by the FCO’S leniency program as it was the first entity to cooperate with the authority in order to figure out the cartel’s structure and the implications of the companies.
Beyond the facts, the case presents a novum in the FCO’s prosecution work: knowing the outstanding importance of insider information for the efficient enforcement of competition law and the sanctioning of competition law violations. In 2012 the Office installed an online electronic whistle-blowing system on its website, giving potential whistle-blowers the opportunity to pass on respective information to the authority, whilst technologically guaranteeing the absolute anonymity of the informant. According to the Office’s own statement, it has received a significant number of tips since the installation of the whistle-blowing system. The above-mentioned procedure is the first one that is initiated using information gained through the system and being concluded by fining the alleged companies. Investigations against one further company are still ongoing.