BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union fined three European and three Japanese makers of power transformers a total of euro67.6 million Wednesday for agreeing not to sell their products in each other's markets.
EU antitrust chief Neelie Kroes said their "gentlemen's agreement" artificially hiked prices.
"Customers and tax payers all over Europe suffered from this cartel for a number of years," she said. "The (European) Commission has now put an end to this rip-off by the self-appointed 'gentlemen'."
Power transformers modify the voltage in electricity transmission networks.
The EU fined three European companies -- ABB of Switzerland and Alstom SA and Areva T&D SA of France -- and three Asian -- Fuji Electrics, Hitachi and Toshiba.
A seventh company -- Siemens AG of Germany -- escaped a fine. While it took part in the European-Japanese cartel it revealed its existence to the EU executive, said Kroes.
She said between 1999 and 2003, the Japanese and European makers power transformers operated on a "gentlemen's agreement" under which the Japanese companies would not sell power transformers in Europe and the European companies returned the favor by not selling theirs in Japan.
The EU antitrust investigation found that each year executives of the seven companies met once or more often in chic hotels in Asia and Europe to reaffirm their cartel deal.
"The cartelists went to great lengths to try to hide their illegal behavior," the European Commission said in a statement. "They concluded the market sharing agreement orally and used code names for their companies to avoid detection."