Aalberts Cartel Fine May Be Reinstated: EU Top Court Aide

A 100.8 million-euro ($132 million) fine against Aalberts Industries NV over a copper cartel may be reinstated after an adviser to the European Union’s highest court said a lower EU court was wrong to overturn it.

An earlier ruling annulling the fine should be overturned because of “an error of law,” Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi of the EU Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion today. The Luxembourg-based EU court follows such advice in a majority of cases. Mengozzi said Aalberts’s appeal of the original fine should be re-examined by the lower EU court.

The EU General Court, the 27-nation bloc’s second-highest tribunal, erased the fine against Langbroek, Netherlands-based Aalberts in March 2011. The European Commission, the EU’s antitrust authority, appealed that decision, which said the Aalberts unit targeted by the fine didn’t participate in a copper cartel during the period they were owned by the company.

The lower court did an “isolated and individual examination” of the evidence on whether each subsidiary participated instead of looking at Aalberts as a single entity, the court adviser said, backing the commission’s arguments.

When evidence concerns conduct of a single company in a cartel, “although that economic unit consists of several legal entities, that evidence must necessarily be assessed as a whole” to determine its role in the alleged infringement, he wrote.

“This is just the advocate general’s advice and we now have to wait for the court’s decision in the next few months to see where we stand,” Aalberts Chief Financial Officer John Eijgendaal said in a telephone interview today.

Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the Brussels-based commission, declined to comment.

Aalberts, Europe’s biggest maker of fittings used in faucets and heaters, was one of 30 companies fined a total of 314.7 million euros in 2006 for unlawfully colluding on prices of copper fittings used in plumbing and heating. Aalberts’s fine was 6 percent of its 2010 revenue of 1.68 billion euros.

The case is: C-287/11 P, Aalberts Industries NV, Comap SA, formerly Aquatis France SAS, Simplex Armaturen + Fittings GmbH & Co. KG v. European Commission.

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