MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia's third-richest man, Richard Pratt, admitted in a court Tuesday that his cardboard box manufacturing company had struck an illegal price-fixing deal with a rival in the biggest Australian cartel ever exposed.
The 73-year-old multibillionaire's lawyers agreed with the competition regulator in the Federal Court that his Visy Board had colluded with rival Amcor to inflate prices in Australia's 2 billion Australian dollars (US$1.8 billion; euro1.3 billion) a year cardboard packaging market from 2000 until 2004.
The regulator, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, asked the court to impose a record A$36 million (US$32 million; euro23 million) fine on Pratt and Visy for breaking competition laws.
Judge Peter Heerey said he will deliver his judgment on penalties at a later date.
Pratt, who built a A$5 billion (US$3.5 billion; euro3.2 billion) fortune on cardboard, made a public apology outside court for the illegal behavior.
''I know a lot more now than I knew then, but I sincerely regret what happened and I accept ultimate responsibility,'' he told reporters.
ACCC lawyer Peter Jopling told the court cardboard boxes prices in Australia rose 20 percent during the four years of price fixing.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Beach told the court the two rivals agreed to increase prices to end a price war.
''Our position is that increases would have taken place in any event,'' Beach said.
Amcor has won immunity from charges because it blew the whistle on the secret deal.