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Welding technology cartel: AFCA files two further applications for a fine and sets Fronius fine at EUR 3 million

After applying to the Cartel Court to have a fine imposed on Fronius International GmbH (“Fronius”) in June 2023, the Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) has now filed two additional applications for a fine in relation to Zultner Metall GmbH and Zultner Immobilien und Beteiligungs GmbH (hereinafter referred to jointly as “Zultner”), as well as in relation to Haberkorn GmbH and Haberkorn Holding AG (hereinafter referred to jointly as “Haberkorn”), doing so on 27 October 2023. The companies have acknowledged the infringements.

The AFCA received information - via its anonymous whistleblowing system - about the distribution agreements that the company Fronius had concluded with its distribution partners, and initiated investigations. Fronius applied to the AFCA for leniency in July 2021 and has since cooperated continuously and fully (see press release of 4 July 2023). These distribution agreements included illegal rules relating to market divisions with absolute territorial protection, price fixing and the prohibition of competition within the scope of the distribution system for welding technology products in business-to-business (B2B) transactions. In addition to the distribution agreements, additional breaches of the ban on cartels such as price fixing and bogus offers were also unearthed.

The AFCA has now received acknowledgements from all companies, in which they have accepted the fines requested by the AFCA and in which they affirm that the AFCA’s investigation results are not in dispute.

Fronius acknowledged the facts of the case as investigated by the AFCA and accepted the amount of the fine. The company was granted leniency, which is why the AFCA applied for a reduced fine of EUR 3 million. Fronius and its exclusive distributors, Zultner and Haberkorn, had agreed on rules governing price coordination, market division and the illegal prohibition of competition for many years.

Zultner acknowledged the infringement and accepted the requested fine of EUR 550,000. Haberkorn also acknowledged the infringement in full and accepted the requested fine of EUR 870,000.

The total amount of fines requested in the area of welding technology for the above anti-competitive infringements over several years is EUR 4.42 million.

“To ensure fair and proper competition, we prosecute cartels as a matter of priority. We at the AFCA monitor the markets closely, and we act swiftly if we become aware of any breaches - via our internal whistleblowing system, as in this case for example - and are resolute in prosecuting them,” insists interim Director General Natalie Harsdorf-Borsch.