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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 19:22 GMT
EU cracks down on drinks firms
Variety of beer
Four groups have been fined for rigging beer prices
By the BBC's Mark Gregory

The European Commission has fined nine companies $200m for taking part in price-fixing cartels.

The penalties have been levied on firms involved in beer brewing and the soft drinks industry.

The fines are a further sign that the authorities in Brussels want to be seen as being tough on businesses that collude with each other to restrict competition in the European Union.

In the soft drinks sector, five firms have been ordered to pay a $120m for rigging the global market for citric acid, a key additive in drinks making.

It is used as a preservative in jam and desserts as well as soft drinks.

Pressure on Hoffman

Most attention is likely to focus on Hoffman-la-Roche, the Swiss drugs and chemical products group.

It was one of eight firms penalised a record $750m last month for fixing the price of vitamin supplements - it received the biggest individual fine.

Now it has been caught out again, accused of being part of a cartel operating in the manufacture of citric acid.

Hoffman-la-Roche said it had been fully co-operating with the European Commission since the malpractices came to light.

Brewers fined

In another development, the European Commission has fined four brewing groups for rigging beer prices in Belgium.

They included Europe's largest brewer, Interbrew and Alken-Maes, which at the time of the alleged cartel in the mid-1990s was owned by the huge French foods group Danone.

See also:

21 Nov 01 | Business
Vitamin pricefixers fined $750m
26 Jan 01 | Business
CD price fix probe launched
31 Jul 01 | Business
Price fixers to face jail
31 Jul 01 | Business
Music giants face price-fix charge
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