Sasol Ltd. (SOL), the world’s largest producer of gasoline from coal, had a 318 million-euro ($433 million) European Union cartel fine cut by more than half after judges said regulators wrongly blamed the company for the behavior of a unit.
Sasol’s fine for fixing the price of paraffin used in candles, paper cups and plates was slashed to 150 million euros by the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg today.
The court said officials were wrong to hold Sasol and its German unit responsible for price-fixing by Hamburg-based wax business Schumann. Sasol bought a stake in the firm in 1995 and acquired the rest of the company in 2002.
Exxon Mobil Corp.’s French unit Esso also won a challenge that reduced its fine to 62.7 million euros from 83.6 million euros. RWE AG (RWE)’s fine was also cut to 35.9 million euros from 37.4 million euros. The Luxembourg-based tribunal criticized the way the EU calculated fines for Exxon and RWE.
Sasol said in a statement that the effect of the reduced fine will be accounted in its full-year 2014 results. The company was unaware of Schumann’s cartel activities before the EU started its probe in 2005, it said.
The EU defended the high fines for candle-wax producers in 2008 by saying the conspiracy lasted 13 years and market for paraffin wax, which is used in a wide variety of products from car tires to chewing gum, was worth 500 million euros a year.
The European Commission “will carefully assess” the court’s conclusions for how it holds parent companies liable for their units behavior, Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the Brussels-based regulator, said in an e-mail. The court confirmed “all the substantial findings of the commission” on the companies’ participation in the cartel, he said.
The General Court’s ruling can be appealed to the EU’s highest tribunal.
The cases are T-540/08 Esso and Others, T-541/08 Sasol and Others, T-543/08 RWE and RWE Dea.
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