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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Volkswagen slapped with record fine
Volkswagen New Beetle
Cheaper in Italy, but once not for sale there for VW's German customers
German car maker Volkswagen has been punished with a record 90m euro ($86m, 57m) fine for anti-competitive behaviour.

The European Court of Justice slightly cut the original 102m euro fine imposed by the European Commission, but its ruling is still by far the harshest penalty imposed in Europe.

Europe's record fines (euros)
Volkswagen - 90m
Tetra Pak - 75m
ABB - 70m
ADM - 47.3m
P&O Nedlloyd- 41.3
British Sugar - 39.6m
British Steel (Corus) - 32m
Ajinomoto - 28.3m
Maersk - 27.5m
Sea-Land - 27.5m
Italcementi - 25.7m
Volkswagen had been accused of ripping off its German and Austrian customers by trying to prevent them from buying their cars in Italy, where list prices for VW cars tend to be much lower.

The German company said it was considering whether to appeal.

Common market - not

The European Commission had found that the behaviour of Volkswagen and its subsidiaries, Audi and Autogerma, had infringed EU competition rules.

Under EU rules, car makers have a "block exemption", allowing them to have their own distribution network.

However, they are not allowed to stop dealers from selling to customers who try to take advantage of regional price differences in the 15-nation common market.

The Commission had accused Volkswagen of "systematically" rejecting orders taken in Italy from foreign customers.

The court found that Volkswagen had entered into agreements with its subsidiaries and Italian dealers "in order to prohibit or restrict sales in Italy to final consumers from other member states and to authorize dealers in its distribution network in other member states".

In their ruling, the judges found "that the allegations against Volkswagen were accurate".

An EU spokesman called the ruling "a satisfying outcome for the [European] Commission and for the consumer".

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