Antitrust Fines Climb in U.S., Europe, Law Firm Says

Global penalties for antitrust violations are expected to reach record levels in 2014 as regulators step up enforcement, according to a report by a London-based law firm.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division has already levied fines of $709 million in the first half of fiscal 2014, more than three times the amount in the first half of fiscal 2013, the report by Allen & Overy LLP found. The European Commission has imposed penalties of 1.41 billion euros ($1.92 billion), compared to 1.9 billion euros in all of 2013.

“Many of the cases that have produced these fines are ongoing,” said John Terzaken, a partner at Allen & Overy who is head of its cartel defense practice in the U.S. “Historically the authorities tend to post their biggest numbers at the end of the year.”

Antitrust regulators around the world are stepping up their enforcement of cases including manipulation of interest rates, such as Libor, and bid rigging and price fixing in the auto parts industry. Brazil, South Korea, Japan and Australia have surpassed the fines they set last year, according to the report. A growing number of regulators are pursuing international cases, the firm said, creating increasing conflicts over jurisdiction.

The U.S. antitrust probe of price-fixing of car parts has resulted in charges against companies and individuals primarily in Japan, Terzaken said. Seven of the eight fines they have levied involved Japanese corporations and additional extradition requests there are possible, he said.

“There will likely be more of these cases before the end of the fiscal year in September,” Terzaken said.

Fines levied by the European Union are the highest of any enforcement agency through mid-year, the study found. They include a 953 million-euro fine imposed on members of an automotive ball-bearings cartel, Allen & Overy said.

The law firm predicts more “significant” penalties as political pressure increases to conclude deals before EU Commissioner Joaquin Almunia’s term expires later this year.

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