BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — European Union regulators fined four companies a total of about $724 million Wednesday for fixing the price of flat glass used in the making of windows, fire-resistant glass and mirrors.
Neelie Kroes, the EU's competition commissioner, said an investigation showed France's Compagnie de Saint-Gobain SA, British-based Pilkington Group Ltd., Japan's Asahi Glass Co. and U.S.-based Guardian Industries Corp. colluded to fix prices and other commercial conditions in the European market.
She said the EU ''will not tolerate companies cheating consumers and business customers by fixing prices and depriving them of the benefits of the single market.''
EU officials said their investigation into the cartel, which included surprise raids at the four companies' European subsidiaries, found they agreed to coordinate ''several rounds of price increases'' during meetings held in restaurants and hotels in several European countries between 2004 and 2005.
Guardian, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., received the highest fine, of 148 million euros ($220 million), followed by Pilkington with 140 million euros ($208 million).
Saint-Gobain was fined 133.9 million euros ($199.2 million), while Asahi's European subsidiary, then known as Glaverbel, received a fine of 65 million euros ($96.7 million).
Asahi's fine was lower because it cooperated with EU authorities in handing over information about the cartel, officials said.
Kroes said the case was brought to light through close cooperation between EU antitrust regulators and national competition authorities, and that the European Commission started its probe into the cartel based on information provided by national authorities.
Wednesday's cartel fine was the second handed out under new EU cartel fine rules, which aim to hand out tougher fines against companies who try to obstruct fair competition. The fines are capped at 10 percent of annual global sales.