Whirlpool Gets Biggest Fine in French Price-Fixing Investigation

(Bloomberg) -- Whirlpool Corp. and five other appliance manufacturers were fined a total of 189 million euros ($214 million) to settle a six-year French price-fixing investigation -- the country’s largest antitrust penalty levied this year.

Whirlpool must pay 102 million euros to cover its own penalty and one handed to Indesit, which it owns, according to a statement Thursday from France’s competition authority. Electrolux AB got a 48 million-euro fine. Robert Bosch GmbH’s BSH must pay 23 million euros after getting a bigger discount than other manufacturers to reward its cooperation as part of a leniency bid.

The companies were accused of fixing prices of large appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers twice during secret meetings between 2006 and 2009. They didn’t contest investigators’ findings as part of the settlement. Some companies even apologized to regulators for this past behavior, said Isabelle de Silva, who heads the Autorite de la Concurrence.

“This case shows that there are still many cartels in France in important sectors of the economy,” de Silva told reporters at a Paris press conference. “That’s worrying because such practices are not only illegal but also harmful.”

It’s the second time de Silva has made a splash with large fines, two years after taking over from Bruno Lasserre, who had previously broken the billion-dollar mark with a combined penalty for shampoo and toothpaste makers including L’Oreal SA and Unilever NV. Last year, de Silva’s officials issued a decision fining flooring makers Tarkett SA, Forbo Holding AG and Gerflor a total 302 million euros.

As part of Thursday’s six-firm settlement, Italy’s Candy SpA must pay 15 million euros and Eberhardt Freres SAS 1 million euros.

In July, Whirlpool indicated a settlement would be reached and said it had agreed to pay a fine between $111 million and $134 million. The firm also said that another part of the probe remained ongoing, without providing further details.

De Silva said that “several more months are needed” to finalize the second part of the investigation, focusing on possible vertical collusion between manufacturers and retailers.

“It’s a big probe,” she said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.