Fresh Del Monte Wins Banana Cartel Fine Cut, Doles Loses

Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. won a reduction in a European Union cartel fine to 8.82 million euros ($11.4 million) while Dole Food Co. lost an EU court challenge against its 45.6 million-euro fine for rigging banana prices.

The EU General Court today ruled Fresh Del Monte’s fine merited a reduction from the original 14.7 million euros, citing cooperation with regulators and mitigating circumstances. The Luxembourg-based court dismissed Dole’s appeal.

The European Commission, the EU’s antitrust regulator, in October 2008 fined the two companies for colluding on prices between 2000 and 2002 in eight EU countries, including Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Banana exports rose to the highest in at least a decade in 2011, making it the most-traded fruit, according to the World Trade Organization.

“We strongly believe that the European competition laws were not violated and we will appeal this decision to the EU Court of Justice,” C. Michael Carter, Dole’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement today. “The General Court’s decision treats discussions about general market conditions the same as a price-fixing cartel.”

Fresh Del Monte got its penalty jointly with Internationale Fruchtimport Gesellschaft Weichert GmbH & Co. Chiquita Brands International Inc. escaped an 83.2 million euro-fine because it was first to tell EU regulators about the cartel.

Chiquita in 2011 also avoided being penalized by blowing the whistle in a second cartel in Italy, Greece and Portugal from July 2004 until April 2005.

Dole, based in Westlake Village, California, made an initial fine payment of $10 million to the commission in January 2009 and “provided the required bank guarantee for the remaining balance,” the company said in a March 12 filing.

The cases are: T-588/08, Dole Food and Dole Germany v. Commission; T-587/08, Fresh Del Monte Produce v. Commission.