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Europe: EU fines likely for Bayer and Chemtura

by Matthew NewmanBloomberg News
December 19th, 2005

European Union regulators plan to fine Bayer and Chemtura this week for fixing prices of rubber chemicals, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the investigation.

The regulators' decision, which follows investigations in the United States and Europe, will be announced on Wednesday, according to an EU document obtained by Bloomberg News. The EU investigation was prompted by information from Flexsys, a joint venture between Solutia of the United States and Akzo Nobel of the Netherlands, said the people, who asked not to be identified.

Bayer set aside $50 million in provisions in 2003 for risks related to the EU investigation. The company last year agreed with U.S. authorities to pay $4.7 million for antitrust violations related to rubber chemicals, which are used to make plastic furniture, hoses, tires, belts and footwear.

"The question is how big the fine is," said Peter Braendle, a fund manager at Swissca Portfolio Management in Zurich. "You'd hope that the provisions were taken at a sufficient level."

The European Commission, the EU's antitrust enforcer in Brussels, can fine companies accused of violating competition rules as much as 10 percent of their annual sales. It typically opts for 2 percent to 3 percent of sales. The largest EU cartel fine was E462 million, or $555 million, levied against Roche Holding in 2001 for its role in fixing the price of vitamins. A spokesman for the commission, Jonathan Todd, declined to comment.

In August, two former Bayer executives were indicted on charges that they had participated in a global conspiracy to fix the price of rubber chemicals. About $1 billion of rubber chemicals is sold in the United States each year to improve the durability and elasticity of rubber products, the U.S. Justice Department said in August. Bayer, the No. 2 chemical maker in Germany, after BASF, agreed to pay a $66 million fine in July 2004 for its role in the conspiracy. Two former Bayer executives have pleaded guilty to price-fixing.

In the U.S. investigation, Chemtura, formerly known as Crompton, and two of its former executives pleaded guilty last year to participating in the conspiracy to fix prices on rubber chemicals. Chemtura, a maker of rubber and plastic additives based in Middlebury, Connecticut, paid a $50 million fine. It had previously said it was cooperating with the EU investigation.

Bayer said its headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, was raided by commission officials in September 2002. Flexsys also said at the time that it had been raided. Ralf Hermann, a Bayer spokesman, said the company had no comment.

Solutia, a bankrupt maker of nylon carpet fibers and plastics, said in a November filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it was being investigated for "past commercial practices in the rubber chemicals industry" by antitrust authorities in the United States, Europe and Canada.

The company "has been fully cooperating with the authorities and will continue to do so in the ongoing investigation," it said. Flexsys will be granted full immunity from the EU charges because it tipped off EU investigators, the people with knowledge of the matter said. Chemtura and Bayer will also be granted leniency, which will lead to reductions in the fine, because they cooperated, the people said.

The regulator may also fine Repsol YPF, a Madrid-based oil company, the people with knowledge of the matter said. The EU will not charge two Slovakian companies, Duslo and Istrochem, because it lacks evidence, these people said. Representatives of Duslo, Istrochem and Repsol were not available for comment.




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