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.