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Author`s name Alex Naumov

European Union fines 10 companies 978 million dollars

EU regulators fined 10 companies a combined $978 million on Wednesday for running a cartel to fix prices for heavy equipment used by power utilities, with Siemens AG ordered to pay more than half the total.

Several of the other companies penalized in what the EU called the largest set of fines on a single cartel were Japanese businesses that struck a deal to stay out of Europe, while the Europeans steered clear of Japan's market.

The European Commission said the companies rigged bids for contracts to supply power plants, fixed prices, shared projects between themselves, carved up markets and exchanged commercially important and confidential information from 1988 and 2004.

It increased Siemens making this the second-highest cartel fine it has ever levied - because the company played a leadership role in fixing prices.

Siemens immediately said it would appeal the "exaggerated" fine, claiming the EU had made a "blanket accusation" when price fixing had occurred only in isolated cases.

But EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said regulators were "extremely sure" their decision was legal.

Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Corp. had the next biggest fine of euro118.5 million ($154.5 million), followed by Toshiba Corp.'s euro90.9 million ($118.5 million).

Mitsubishi said it was considering its response, while Toshiba denied any wrongdoing. "Our own investigations show that we have not engaged in any actions that violate European competition laws, and we plan to fight this decision in European courts," Toshiba said in a statement.

France's Alstom SA must pay euro65 million ($84.7 million). Areva was fined euro53.5 million ($69.7 million) for the actions of a subsidiary it bought from Alstom just four months before investigators launched surprise raids. Both fines were increased by 50 percent for the companies helping organize the cartel.

Hitachi Ltd. must pay euro51.75 million ($67.5 million). It had no immediate comment, the AP reports.

The European Commission and national antitrust officials conducted surprise visits at cartel members' offices on May 11 and 12, 2004 while they were conducting a price-fixing meeting.

The worldwide cartel began in 1988 and lasted until 2004, the commission said.

ABB Ltd., the world's largest builder of electricity networks, tipped off the EU and wasn't fined. The company escaped a 215.2 million euro fine, the commission said.

The commission levied a large fine against Siemens because it ``played a leadership role in the cartel, their duration in the cartel, as well as their size,'' Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said at a press conference. “The commission regards this cartel as totally unacceptable behavior,” Bloomberg reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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