(CN) – A European court struck a $44 million fine against Dutch brewer Grolsch, saying there was not enough evidence to prove it had participated in a beer cartel.
The European Commission had leveled a total of $377 million in fines against Grolsch, Heineken and its subsidiary, and the Bavarian brewery in 2007 for participating in a beer cartel.
The beer companies had apparently coordinated prices and allocated customers from 1996 to 1999 in the Netherlands, within “on-trade” markets for direct consumption, such as restaurants and bars, as well as “off-trade” sites, such as supermarkets.
Grolsch denied accusations from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, that it had participated in the cartel. It insisted that its subsidiary Grolsche Bierbrouwerij Nederland BV had attended the meetings in question.
After considering documents related to the case, the Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union found that evidence linking Grolsch to the cartel was lacking.
Although a parent company is typically held responsible for the actions of wholly owned subsidiaries, the commission had failed to acknowledge a difference between Grolsch and its subsidiary, denying Grolsch a chance to rebut the charges, according to the ruling.
The General Court fully annulled the commission’s decision regarding Grolsch. If the commission appeals, the case will head to Europe’s high court.
This past June, the General Court shaved 10 percent off the fines for Bavarian, Heineken and Heineken’s subsidiary. So far, the commission has not appealed that decision.
Multinational company InBev, which owns Anheuser-Busch and also acts on the Dutch market, was granted immunity because it supplied information for the investigation.