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Construction cartel update: AFCA applies for the imposition of a fine of EUR 1.36 million on Hitthaller + Trixl

In the course of its investigations into the Austrian construction industry, the Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) filed another application with the Cartel Court on 7 July 2023 to impose a fine on Hitthaller + Trixl Baugesellschaft m.b.H. as well as its parent company PHB GmbH (Hitthaller).

Hitthaller was directly involved in illegal price fixing, market divisions and the exchange of information with competitors in relation to public and private construction tenders, in the province of Styria in particular. Some construction projects in Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg and Burgenland were also affected by these infringements, which were aimed at reducing or excluding competition, helping each other to win construction contracts and thus securing market shares. Owing to this anti-competitive conduct, the AFCA has now applied to the Cartel Court to have a fine of EUR 1.36 million imposed on Hitthaller.

Hitthaller is only one of the companies to have been involved in the infringement of cartel law that has occurred across the whole of Austria, with each of these companies having been involved to varying degrees. The large number of arranged construction contracts cover both building construction and civil engineering projects throughout Austria, with road building projects predominating.

Hitthaller has cooperated with the AFCA outside the leniency programme to fully clarify the facts of the case. During settlement talks with the AFCA and the Federal Cartel Prosecutor, Hitthaller acknowledged the infringement for use in proceedings before the Cartel Court. The AFCA therefore applied for a reduced fine.

Previous AFCA investigations into the construction industry

Several companies that were members of the construction cartel were engaged in concerted practices with the aim of helping each other to win construction contracts and thus secure market shares and increase their margins. The cartel covered the entire Austrian territory, albeit to varying degrees depending on the company involved. In spring 2017, the AFCA carried out dawn raids together with the Central Public Prosecutor for Economic Crime and Corruption (WKStA) as part of its investigations into the construction industry, in the course of which it also impounded large amounts of data.

In autumn 2019, the AFCA submitted its initial statements of objections to the companies concerned. A statement of objections is a formal step in AFCA investigations, informing the companies concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. Further investigations into numerous other companies are ongoing. The Cartel Court has already imposed fines on several companies, with various other cases still pending. Please refer to our FAQ Construction Cartel Update July 2023 for further information.

Fines for cartels

The Federal Cartel Act prohibits any behaviour that prevents or distorts competition. This covers price fixing agreements or the division of markets or territories. At the AFCA’s request, the Cartel Court may impose fines of up to 10% of an entity’s total turnover generated in the preceding business year if that entity is found to have breached the rules banning cartels. Fines are determined on the basis of the gravity and duration of the breach, the degree of fault, and the economic strength and cooperation of the company concerned.