Mercedes-Benz and Truck Dealers Being Probed in U.K. Over Cartel

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz unit in Britain and five dealers of its vans and trucks are being probed by a competition regulator for allegedly coordinating prices and sharing commercially sensitive information.

The group is suspected of five violations of competition law from 2007 to 2010, with each including two or three dealers, the Office of Fair Trading said in a statement today. Mercedes may have been involved in two of the incidents, the OFT said.

“We have reason to believe that these dealers cooperated to limit competition in their areas,” Ali Nikpay, an OFT senior director, said in the statement. The companies will have a “full opportunity to respond to our statement before we decide whether competition law has in fact been infringed.”

The OFT dropped a separate civil probe into the Mercedes unit and companies including Fiat SpA’s Iveco subsidiary to let the European Union focus on the case, which involves a suspected cartel of truckmakers. In that probe, the head of the U.K. Mercedes-Benz truck division was arrested in 2010, and then released on bail when the probe began.

“We now have detailed information about the investigation of the OFT for the first time,” Daimler spokesman Rob Halloway said in an e-mail today about the new probe. “We will continue to cooperate with the authorities.”

The new investigation is part of surge in activity by the OFT since U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable appointed a new chief executive officer for the watchdog following a series of court defeats. Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount airline, is facing a full investigation of its 30 percent stake in Irish competitor Aer Lingus Group Plc after the OFT said the holding may lead to higher prices.

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