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Tesco Ends Appeal Over OFT Dairy Cartel After Fine Is Lowered

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Tesco Plc, Britain’s largest supermarket chain, ended an appeal over an alleged conspiracy to fix the price of dairy products more than a decade ago after a regulator reduced its fine 38 percent to 6.5 million pounds ($9.8 million.)

A deal between Tesco and the Office of Fair Trading to reduce the penalty and end the case was approved today by the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London, the regulator said today in an e-mailed statement. In December, the court upheld the agency’s finding that Tesco broke competition law three times by coordinating increases in prices for cheese in 2002.

The fine, initially set at 10.4 million pounds, was reduced after the tribunal ruled Tesco “didn’t infringe the law in relation to a number of other findings of exchanges of future pricing information,” the OFT said in the statement.

Tesco argued the OFT was wrong to find the grocery chain colluded with dairy producers to share prices with J Sainsbury Plc, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda chain and other retailers in 2002 and 2003. Tesco had said the alleged violations followed lobbying by British dairy farmers for higher prices.

The OFT had left the penalty against Cheshunt, England-based Tesco unchanged when it reduced the total fines in the case for the second time in August 2011, to 49.5 million pounds, after other companies sought to resolve the probe and cooperated. The levies had totaled 116 million pounds when they were first issued in 2007. They were lowered to 70 million pounds in 2010, after the OFT dropped some claims because of insufficient evidence.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Scinta at cscinta@bloomberg.net

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