European court erases Unipetrol rubber cartel fines

A European court has dismissed fines against Czech petrochemical firm Unipetrol and rubber unit Kaučuk for participation in a cartel

The Czech Republic’s biggest refinery and petrochemicals group, Prague-listed Unipetrol, has won its battle against a European Commission fine imposed on it for allegedly taking part in a price-fixing and competition-distorting cartel.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) announced on Wednesday that it was striking down fines totaling €17.55 million against Unipetrol and its rubber production unit Kaučuk imposed in 2006 for participation in a Europe-wide cartel.

“The evidence admitted by the Commission is not sufficient for a finding that those companies participated in unlawful agreements.”

“The court considers that the evidence admitted by the Commission is not sufficient for a finding that those companies participated in unlawful agreements,” the court said in a statement. “Even if some of the evidence may have a certain probative value, it is not sufficient.”

The court added that doubt about Unipetrol and Kaučuk’s guilt worked in their favor and that it had therefore decided to annul the earlier decision.

The decision by the General Court of the European Union can be appealed within two months to the ECJ, but that court can only challenge points of law in its decision.

The original cartel fines covered synthetic rubbers used for tire production with all 13 of the companies fined appealing against their punishments. The cartel was alleged to have continued for more than five years and finally came to an end in November 2002.

The biggest fine against Anglo-Dutch petro-chem company Shell of €160.88 million was upheld but a fine against Italian oil group ENI was reduced by around a third to €272.24 million. A set of fines against units of the US-based Dow Chemical Group were maintained although the court found fault with the Commission's case.

Unipetrol is 63-percent owned by Polish oil and refinery group PKN Orlen.

Kaučuk was sold off  in 2007 to Polish company Firma Chemiczna Dwory.