EU Fines Chemical Cartel For Price Fixing

BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union regulators on Wednesday fined seven chemical companies euro61 million for fixing the price of calcium carbide, a chemical used to make steel.

Akzo Nobel NV of the Netherlands escaped a fine because it blew the whistle on the cartel, the European Commission said.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said industrial customers all over Europe suffered from the cartel from 2004 to 2007. "The Commission will not tolerate such economic damage to Europe's industrial base," she said.

Slovakia-based Novacke chemicke zavody and 1.garantovana received the largest individual fine of euro19.6 million. Germany's SKW Stahl-Metallurgie and its owner ARQUES Industries were fined euro13.3 million, HSE of Slovenia must pay euro9.1 million, German-Austrian group Ecka Granulate euro6.4 million and Germany's Almamet euro3.04 million.

Two companies saw their fines reduced for cooperating with regulators. Austria's Donau Chemie's share was cut to euro5 million. Germany's Evonik Degussa also won a reduction to euro4.68 million.

Regulators said the companies fixed prices and shared markets for calcium carbide powder and granulates and magnesium granulates that operated across most European countries. The total European market is worth some euro175 million.

The chemicals are essential for steel makers because they remove oxygen and sulfur from molten steel to make it stronger. Calcium carbide granulates are also used to make the welding gas acetylene.

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