By Peppi Kiviniemi
BRUSSELS—The European Commission said Wednesday it raided the offices of several electrical-equipment companies on Jan. 20, on suspicions they may have operated a cartel.
Both Swiss technology company ABB /zigman2/quotes/209404356/lastsale ABB -3.90% Ltd. and German industrial conglomerate Siemens /zigman2/quotes/200873563/delayed DE:SIE -3.29% AG confirmed that their offices had been visited in connection with the investigation.
The antitrust probe concerns the production of Flexible Alternating Current Transmission Systems, or FACTS, used to increase the power transfer capability of electricity transmission networks, said the commission, by the European Union's executive arm.
"ABB can confirm that investigations have been carried out by the European Commission at the premises of ABB's FACTS ... business in Sweden. We are cooperating fully with the authorities," the company said in a statement.
Siemens spokesman Joern Roggenbruck said the company was giving its full cooperation to authorities.
The cartel investigation has no definite deadline, but the commission can fine companies it finds guilty of price fixing up to 10% of their global annual revenue. The commission tends to issue fines from the higher end of the spectrum in cases where the company is a repeat offender.
Both Siemens and ABB have a long history with the European antitrust enforcers, having been found guilty of participating in two separate cartels over the past three years.
In 2007, Siemens was fined around €751 million ($1.05 billion) for having been one of the ring-leaders in a gas-insulated switchgear cartel. ABB escaped a fine in the 2007 switchgear cartel, after it blew the whistle on the price fixing. But the company was back in trouble in early 2009, facing a €33.75 million fine for having participated in an electricity-generation-equipment cartel. Siemens was also found guilty of fixing the equipment prices, but in turn escaped a fine as it had revealed the existence of the cartel to the commission.
France's Areva SA, which was also found guilty of both previous energy cartels, said it was "not aware" of any antitrust raids in its offices, while industrial group Alstom /zigman2/quotes/209823934/delayed FR:ALO -2.37% SA's couldn't be reached for comment.
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