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German beer companies swallow $150 million fine for price fixing

 

Marius Becker / EPA

Five German breweries are facing millions in fines after the country's main antitrust authority found they had worked together to set prices between 2006 and 2008, the Federal Cartel Office announced Monday.
EPA/MARIUS BECKER

 

MAINZ, Germany — Beer companies in Germany woke up to a $150 million hangover Monday when five breweries and seven people were fined for illegally fixing prices by the country’s cartel office.

In secret phone calls and private meetings, the breweries agreed to raise the cost by five to seven Euros ($7 to $9.5) per hundred liters of beer, according the Federal Cartel Office known as the “Kartellamt.”

"While we have seen this type of manipulation with other consumer products, it is the first case in Germany's beer industry," Kay Weidner, a spokesman for Germany's anti-trust authority told NBC News.

The country's Federal Cartel Office told Reuters on Monday that unlisted brewers Bitburger, Krombacher, Veltins, Warsteiner and Privat-Brauerei Ernst Barre GmbH as well as seven individuals in the industry received fines as part of a settlement agreement.

"In 2008, a price increase was agreed for bottled beer with the intention of making the 20-bottle crates one euro more expensive," Andreas Mundt, the head of the German anti-trust authority said in a statement.  

"The key witness in this case was the German division of Belgian-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch," Weidner said. "In half of the cases that we deal with, our investigations are based on testimonies from key witnesses," he added.

Sure to provide a bitter aftertaste to beer lovers is the fact that the cartel office also said that further investigations are underway against two national and four regional German breweries.

The country is Europe's biggest producer of beer and has the third-largest per-capita consumption after the Czech Republic and Austria.

Danish brewer Carlsberg said last March it was under investigation by the German Cartel Office.

In a written statement, Germany’s Veltins brewery stressed that it welcomed the end of the proceedings, in which it has supported the investigation.

“With the support in the investigation, the tradition-rich company could take advantage of the legally possible bonus regulation, which reduced the fine," they said.

At the time of reporting other breweries had not responded to NBC News request for comment.   

Reuters contributed to this report.