Bulgaria high court upholds steep fines for sunflower oil cartel

Bulgaria’s anti-trust regulator said on August 29 that the country’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) has issued a final ruling upholding the fines imposed by the watchdog on eight companies that it accused of being part of a price-fixing cartel on the sunflower oil market.

The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) issued its ruling in July 2013, issuing total fines of more than 2.06 million leva, or about 1.05 million euro. Individual fines ranged from 91 277 leva levied on the Romanian subsidiary of US agribusiness giant Bunge to 628 944 leva imposed on Bunge’s Hungarian unit.

Five years later, the appeal process is finally over, with a five-judge panel of the SAC ruling to overturn the decision by a three-judge panel last year, which cancelled the fines.

At the time, the watchdog ruled that the eight companies had been part of a “illegal vertical agreement meant to prevent, limit or breach competition on the bottled sunflower oil market by direct or indirect fixing of resale prices.”

This agreement eliminated all price competition between distributors, which had a “significant impact” on the prices paid by end-consumers.

Sunflower oil is the main vegetable oil used for cooking in Bulgaria. On the list of 100 essential goods for the households in the lowest 20 per cent by income, which make up the “small consumer goods basket” tracked by the country’s statistics institute, cooking oil has a weight of 1.7 per cent.

(Photo:  Kata Szikora/sxc.hu)



The Sofia Globe staff

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