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Court Gives Break to Some Members of Energy Cartel

(CN) - The European high court significantly reduced the fines imposed against participants in an energy cartel, but German company Siemens will still have to pay more than $550 million because of its role in restraining the market for gas-insulated switchgear, used to control the flow of energy in electricity networks.

The European Commission in 2007 imposed more than $1 billion in fines against 20 companies accused of participating in a scheme to fix prices, cut out nonparticipants and manipulate bidding for contract projects involving the gear. The companies allegedly participated in the cartel from 1988 to 1999, and 2002 to 2004.

Alstom, Areva, Siemens and several of its subsidiaries sought to reduce their fines, appealing to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The Luxembourg-based court reduced fines against Alstom and Areva by about 9 percent, from a combined total of about $91 million to $82 million, finding that the companies had acted as "secretary" of the cartel for less time than Siemens had. In 2009, Alstrom transferred all of its electricity transmission and distribution sector activities to a group of companies controlled by Areva.

For another grouping of companies based out of Italy, Austria and the United Kingdom - some of them formerly operating under the Siemens name, now subsidiaries with new parents - the court struck the fine for three months in 2002. It also redistributed liability based on specific ownership at the time of infringement. As a result of recalculation, those fines were reduced by about 53 percent, from about $79 million to $42 million.

As for Siemens' mother company, however, Siemens AG, the original $550 million fine will stand.

Appeals from more companies based in Japan are still pending.

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