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Shell Wins 25% Cut in Bitumen Cartel Fine, Total Loses Bid

Royal Dutch Shell Plc won a 25 percent reduction in a fine for its role in a bitumen industry cartel, while other members including Total SA and Royal BAM Group NV lost their appeals at a European Union court.

Shell’s fine was cut to 81 million euros ($104.2 million) from 108 million euros because antitrust regulators failed to show that the company “played the role of instigator and leader in the infringement,” the EU General Court ruled today.

The European Commission, the EU’s antitrust watchdog, in September 2006 fined 14 companies 266.7 million euros for fixing the price of bitumen, a petroleum byproduct used to make asphalt, over eight years on the Dutch market. Shell, whose fine was increased for being a repeat offender, received the biggest penalty. BP Plc escaped a fine because it cooperated in the probe, the commission said.

Dutch companies Ballast Nedam NV, Heijmans NV, Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin NV, Royal BAM Group and Swedish company Nynas AB lost their appeals today. Only a subsidiary of Ballast Nedam had its liability for its fine reduced, while the total fine on its parent was upheld today.

Total was fined 20.25 million euros, the third highest penalty in the cartel, behind Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin, which was told to pay 27.4 million euros.

Today’s ruling “proved that the decision to appeal in 2006 was well founded,” Wendel Broere, a spokesman for Shell in The Hague, said by phone.

Shell ‘Regrets’

“Shell does recognize that competition law was infringed” and “regrets this,” said Broere. “Shell is committed to complying with competition laws and we have an extensive compliance program.”

Total, Europe’s third biggest oil company, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment to its press office.

The penalties were part of a crackdown on the construction industry by the commission and regulators in EU countries such as Finland and Sweden.

The commission said at the time that the Dutch cartel was led by Shell and Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin. It was made up of eight suppliers and six purchasers of road bitumen in the Netherlands, according to the commission.

The cases are: T-343/06, T-344/06, T-347/06, T-348/06, T-351/06, T-352/06, T-353/06, T-354/06, T-355/06, T-356/06, T-357/06, T-359/06, T-360/06, T-361/06, T-362/06, T-370/06.

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