BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union regulators on Wednesday fined steel producer ArcelorMittal euro276 million ($337 million) for secret deals to fix steel prices for nearly two decades with 16 other steel makers.
The European Commission says it fined all of the companies a total of euro518 million, bringing to euro1.49 billion the amount of fines it has levied this year on businesses who formed cartels.
It accuses the steel producers of holding more than 550 meetings from 1984 to 2002 to fix prices across Europe and allocate customers for prestressing steel, long curled steel wires used by builders to make foundations, balconies or bridges.
ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel maker, received the largest fine based on the size of its operations and revenues -- but also won a reduction for cooperating with investigators. It says it educates workers to make sure all business activity meets legal and ethical standards.
Austria's voestalpine said it would appeal its euro22 million fine, saying it "has made it abundantly plain to the EU commission that the company has never been involved in the prestressing steel cartel."
Spain-based Global Steel Wire's unit Tycsa was fined euro54 million while Emesa, Galycas and ArcelorMittal's Spanish unit were jointly fined euro40.8 million and Italy's Ori Martin and Siderurgica Latina Martin must pay euro19.8 million.
DWK/Saarstahl ended the cartel by telling EU regulators about it in 2002. It escaped any fine.
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said it was "amazing how such a significant number of companies abused nearly the entire European construction market for such a long time and for such a vital product."
Regulators reduced fines for three companies who supplied proof that the financial penalty could force them into financial collapse. They did not name the businesses but said 13 of the companies had pleaded for reductions because of the financial difficulties a heavy fine would cause.
Almunia said the EU executive had "no sympathy for cartelists" and would fine repeat offenders more -- and accept inability-to-pay claims "only when it is clear the fine would send a company into bankruptcy."
Apart from ArcelorMittal, they also cut fines for Italcables/Antonini, Nedri, Emesa and Galycas and WDI/Pampus for cooperating with the antitrust probe.
EU antitrust fines can go as high as 10 percent of yearly global turnover for each year a company broke the law.