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Holcim to Cemex Lose Appeal of EU Data-Fishing in Cement Cartel

Holcim Ltd., the world’s largest cement maker by sales, Cemex SAB and HeidelbergCement AG lost challenges to the European Union’s “fishing expedition” for what they claimed was unnecessary information in its probe into price-fixing and import limits in the cement market.

The EU General Court in a ruling in Luxembourg today backed “the lawfulness of the requests for information” that the cement firms received from the EU’s antitrust regulator.

Six companies, including Buzzi Unicem SpA, Italmobiliare SpA and Schwenk Zement, challenged a March 2011 decision by the European Commission demanding information as part of the regulator’s antitrust probe opened the previous December. Lafarge SA, which is also being investigated, didn’t appeal the information decision.

“These judgments are important because they confirm the scope of the commission’s powers to investigate suspected antitrust infringements,” the Brussels-based regulator said in an e-mailed statement.

Schwenk Zement was the only company that partially won its appeal when the court said the two-week deadline the company was given to answer some of the EU’s questions was too short.

The cement companies argued that the commission overstepped its powers by seeking a “vast amount of detailed information” that wasn’t necessary for the investigation.

The EU’s antitrust authority also failed to explain the reasons for the probe or why companies were given very little time with no chance to extend this deadline to comply with the request, the companies argued.

Millions of Items

Cemex, the biggest cement maker in the Americas, said in its appeal that the EU request “required the applicants not only to produce, but also to process, millions of items of data of an economic nature, thereby transferring to them the investigatory role incumbent upon the commission.”

The EU probe is continuing and concerns makers of cement and related products in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and the U.K., the EU said in 2010.

Holcim said it took note of todays decision and won’t comment further because the probe is ongoing. Today’s ruling can be appealed one last time.

Italmobiliare declined to comment. Cemex, Buzzi Unicem and HeidelbergCement didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The cases are: T-292/11, Cemex and Others v. Commission; T-293/11, Holcim (Deutschland) and Holcim v. Commission; T-297/11, Buzzi Unicem v. Commission; T-302/11, HeidelbergCement v. Commission; T-305/11, Italmobiliare v. Commission; T-306/11, Schwenk Zement v. Commission.

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