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EU Regulator Can Seek Damages in Elevator Cartel, Court Says

The European Union’s antitrust regulator can seek damages from elevator makers it fined for illegal price-fixing including United Technologies Corp.’s Otis unit and ThyssenKrupp AG, the EU’s highest court ruled.

EU law “does not prevent the commission from bringing an action, on behalf of the EU, before a national court for compensation for loss caused,” by a cartel, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, said in a ruling. The decision is final and can’t be appealed.

The European Commission sued Otis and ThyssenKrupp along with rivals Schindler Holding AG and Kone Oyj for 7.1 million euros ($9.1 million) in Belgium 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.

The Brussels Commercial Court examining the commission’s claim asked the EU tribunal whether regulators could represent other EU institutions in a lawsuit and whether it could sue companies it fined for cartel behavior.

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.

Fine Reduced

ThyssenKrupp, Germany’s biggest steelmaker was fined 479.7 million euros, reduced last year to 320 million euros on appeal. Otis was fined 224.9 million euros, Schindler 143.7 million euros and Kone 142 million euros in 2007.

Karla Lindahl, a spokeswoman for Kone in Espoo, Finland, declined to comment citing the pending litigation. Barbara Schmidhauser, a spokeswoman for Hergiswil, Switzerland-based Schindler, declined to comment because the company was still analyzing the ruling.

Otis and ThyssenKrupp didn’t respond to e-mails and calls seeking comment.

Antony Gravili, a spokesman for the commission, said regulators welcomed the ruling.

The case is T-199/11, European Union, represented by the European Commission v. Otis NV and Others.

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