In February we reported on how a member of a maritime carrier cartel had saved itself a €200m fine under the EU’s leniency procedure. Showing the continued and valuable use of the leniency procedure, on 21 March 2018 it was reported by the Commission how a member of a Japanese aluminium and tantalum electrolytic capacitor cartel had saved itself a fine of €32m by again using the procedure.

Capacitors are electrical components that store energy electrostatically in an electric field, and are used in a wide variety of electric and electronic products.

The cartel involved nine producers of capacitors who from 1998 to 2012, participated in multilateral meetings and engaged in bilateral or trilateral contacts to exchange commercially sensitive information. The objective was to coordinate future behaviour and avoid price competition. In particular, the companies exchanged information on future prices and pricing intentions, and on future supply and demand information. In some instances, the participants also concluded price agreements and monitored their implementation.

The Commission reports how the participants were aware that their activity was illegal and warned each other not to report their meetings and to destroy documentary evidence of the collusion.

Of particular note in this cartel investigation is both the historic nature of the activity as well as the length of time it took the Commission to bring the case to a conclusion. As stated above, the proven activity of the cartel finished in 2012 but it was only reported to the Commission two years later in Spring 2014. It then took the Commission a further four full years’ to complete its case and level the fines.

Sanyo/Panasonic, who reported the cartel, will have benefited greatly over this period in both legal costs and their protection from the fines under the leniency procedure. For the other eight participants, we imagine the four years’ of uncertainty and legal costs would have been a significant drain on both management time and resources. The employees who started the cartel in 1998 would be surprised to know their actions would have serious repercussions some 20 years’ later.

The Commission’s press release can be found here.