French Water Company Can’t Dodge $11.5M Fine

     (CN) – The European Commission slapped a French water company with an $11.5 million fine for entering a sealed room during an antitrust investigation.

     The commission, which acts as the European Union’s executive branch, imposed the fine last week against Suez Environnement and its subsidiary Lyonnaise des Eaux.
     France-based Suez is one of Europe’s largest water companies. According to 2010 figures from Suez, the utility grosses almost $20 billion per year and provides drinking water to 91 million people. It does about a quarter of its business outside of Europe.
     The commission made surprise visits to several French utilities in mid-April 2010 as part of an investigation into potential price-fixing in the public water provision and wastewater-treatment sectors.
     During the raid, commission inspectors affixed a seal at the Paris headquarters of Lyonnaise des Eaux. The following day, the tamperproof adhesive had been broken. Lyonnaise admitted to the act, but argued it was unintentional, the commission said.
     The commission, which by law may fine a company up to 1 percent of its revenue over broken antitrust investigation seals, said it considered the company’s cooperation in setting the $11.5 million fine.
     Last December, a European Court upheld a $50 million fine against E.ON, a German electrical utility, for a similar breach.
     The antitrust investigation into the French water companies is ongoing; Suez denies the accusations.

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