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EU Can Sue Elevator Companies It Fined, Court Aide Says

The European Union’s antitrust regulator should be able to file a damages lawsuit against elevator makers it fined for illegal price-fixing, an EU court aide said.

The European Commission is suing Otis Elevator Co. and ThyssenKrupp AG, the world’s two largest elevator makers, and smaller rivals Kone and Schindler, for 7.1 million euros ($8.8 million) damages in the Belgian courts because it said it purchased elevators and escalators for EU buildings at increased prices. The lawsuit is based on the EU’s own antitrust ruling that found the companies colluded to raise prices.

Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalon, the legal adviser to the EU’s highest court, said the EU courts should handle any challenge to the regulator’s decision to fine the companies and national courts should “declare and quantify” damage suffered by the regulator as a customer, according to a court statement.

“The charter of fundamental rights does not prevent the commission, when it has found there to be a cartel, from claiming compensation before the national courts for loss sustained by the EU in its capacity as a customer,” the court said in a statement.

The commission’s buildings -- including the Berlaymont, its headquarters in Brussels with 45 elevators and 12 escalators, and the European Union court buildings in Luxembourg -- had equipment installed at “bloated” prices because of the companies’ illegal price-fixing, the commission said in 2007.

Fines Challenged

Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels, Martina Behrend, a spokeswoman for ThyssenKrupp in Essen, and Liisa Kivala, a spokeswoman for Kone in Espoo, Finland, declined to comment on today’s legal opinion. Otis and Schindler didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.

ThyssenKrupp, Germany’s biggest steelmaker and the world’s largest maker of elevators, was fined 479.7 million euros, reduced last year to 320 million euros on appeal. The commission fined Otis 224.9 million euros, Schindler 143.7 million euros and Kone 142 million euros in 2007.

While the advocate general’s opinion isn’t binding, it is followed by the European Court of Justice in the majority of cases. The EU court was asked to rule on points of law by the Brussels commercial court hearing the damages lawsuit. Final decisions on the case will be taken by the Brussels court.

The case is T-199/11 Otis and Others.

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