(CN) – A European court upheld a more than $50 million fine against a German electricity company that undermined an investigation into anti-competitive practices.
The European Commission in 2006 investigated E.ON Energie AG, a German utility that supplies energy to numerous European countries, suspecting that it participated in antitrust activities on the German electricity market.
When commission investigators were unable to complete their inspection of E.ON files at the company’s Munich headquarters in a single day, they placed some documents in a room, locked the door and affixed a tamperproof seal.
Inspectors took the key to the room, unaware that 20 master keys could also open the door.
When Commission seals are removed, a void mark appears on the surface of the sticker. Inspectors saw the tell-tale signs of trespass the next morning, and the commission imposed a fine of more than $50 million on E.ON for the tampering. E.ON appealed the fine, asking that it be eliminated or at least reduced.
The Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union upheld the fine, ruling that E.ON was responsible for taking all measures necessary to prevent tampering with the seal.
The fine, which amounts to 0.14 percent of E.ON’s total business, was justified “given the particularly serious nature of breaking a seal, the size of the company as well as the need to ensure a sufficiently dissuasive effect,” the court said in a statement.