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Construction cartel: HABAU fine set at EUR 26.33 million

Four companies from the HABAU group of companies have admitted participating in the construction cartel and fully acknowledged the infringement. The Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) and the Federal Cartel Prosecutor had conducted settlement talks with them, during which it was agreed that a fine of EUR 26.33 million would be appropriate. This is the first time that a fine has been set against a medium-sized member of the construction cartel. Its involvement in the cartel was limited by its company size.

Four companies from the HABAU group of companies were involved in the cartel, which covered illegal price fixing, market divisions and the exchange of information with competitors in relation to public and private construction tenders in Austria.

The AFCA had already filed an application with the Cartel Court to fine four companies from the HABAU group in October 2020. Following the acknowledgement, the AFCA can now specify its application and request that a fine of EUR 26.33 million be imposed. The infringements occurred between 2002 and 2017 and concern multiple invitations to tender, with contract volumes ranging from less than EUR 50,000 to EUR 60 million primarily for planning and executing civil engineering projects, and focused in particular on road building projects and partly also engineering and building construction projects. The projects came from both the public and private sectors.

The civil engineering projects primarily related to the following types of project:

  • Road building (provincial roads, motorways, car parks, village bypasses, etc.)
  • Track construction and railway stations
  • Canal construction.

The building construction projects primarily related to the following types of project:

  • Office and residential buildings
  • Barracks
  • Power stations
  • Supermarkets
  • Kindergartens
  • Other master builder projects.

The HABAU company group consists of 18 group companies, employs more than 5,500 people and generates an annual construction volume of EUR 1.8 billion. The group of companies is active in 20 different countries.

Previous AFCA investigations into the construction industry

Several companies that were members of the construction cartel were engaged in concerted practices with the intent of helping each other to win construction contracts and thus securing market shares and increasing 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 parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. Further investigations into numerous other companies are ongoing.

The SWIETELSKY group has only recently acknowledged its breach of the law in the amount of EUR 27.15 million (see AFCA’s press release of 21 July 2022). Final fines have already been imposed on the STRABAG and PORR groups. In July 2022, however, the AFCA applied to the Cartel Court for a review of the STRABAG decision owing to new facts having emerged (see press release of 28 July 2022 and press release of 4 April 2022).