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German brewers hit with $319 million cartel fines

Wednesday - 4/2/2014, 12:11pm  ET

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's antitrust authority has fined a group of brewers 231.2 million euros ($319 million) for allegedly fixing the price of beer, the second round of punishments it has made in the case.

The Federal Cartel Office said Wednesday it imposed fines on six companies: Radeberger, the German unit of Danish brewer Carlsberg, Bolten, Erzquell, Frueh and Gaffel. Also fined were the regional breweries' association in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, and seven individuals who weren't identified.

The office had already announced in January fines totaling 106.5 million euros against another five companies over price-fixing between 2006 and 2008. Those five breweries reached a settlement with authorities, a move that reduced their punishment.

The investigation was launched on information from the German branch of Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA, which wasn't fined as a result of its cooperation.

The cartel office's chairman, Andreas Mundt, said the hefty fines in the cases were justified.

"The producers concerned stand for more than half of the beer sold in Germany," he said in a statement. "The industry's sales are well over 7 billion euros per year. In view of these sales, the high fines are appropriate and necessary to impose an effective penalty."

Radeberger and Carlsberg accounted for the lion's share of the second and final round of fines, the cartel office said, without giving a breakdown.

Carlsberg said in a statement that it did not agree with the findings that led to its 62 million-euro fine and would appeal against the decision to a German court.

Germany boasts some 1,300 breweries and 5,000 brands of beer. Beer is a national institution, and German brewers are bound by the so-called "purity law" dating back nearly 500 years that allows nothing but water, barley malt, hops and yeast for brewing.


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