Nov 12, 2010 bloomberg

BASF, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis Win Appeal Over Customers' Vitamin-Cartel Suit

BASF SE, the world's biggest chemicals maker, can't be sued by a group of customers who claim they paid too much for vitamins during a price-fixing cartel in the 1990s, a U.K. appeals court ruled.

The Court of Appeal控訴院 in London today ruled the companies had missed a two-year deadline for filing the lawsuit. The ruling upheld the Competition Appeal Tribunal's 競争控訴審判所decision that the court couldn't extend the time limit. The lower court's ruling also applied to a parallel case against drugmakers Roche Holding AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA, which wasn't appealed.

"There was and is no power to extend time" to sue, Judge Timothy Lloyd wrote in the unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel. "The claim was rightly dismissed."

The European Union in 2001 fined Roche, BASF, Aventis SA and five other companies a then-record 855.2 million euros ($1.2 billion) for working together to inflate vitamin prices. The collusion was "the most damaging series of cartels the commission has ever investigated," Mario Monti, who was then EU Competition Commissioner, said at the time.

Hoffman-La Roche  462百万ユーロ
BASF  296.16236.8
 Aventis 5.04
 Solvay Pharmaceuticals 9.1
 Merck 9.24
 武田薬品工業 37.05
 エーザイ  13.23
 第一工業製薬  23.418

"This is a good result for business," said Clare Canning, BASF's lawyer at the firm Mayer Brown LLP in London. "It provides certainty in this economic climate, in which the limitation of financial damage is ever more important."

Two groups of customers, including BCL Old Co. and Grampian Country Food Group Ltd., sued in March and May 2008, just before they believed the statute of limitations was about to expire. They based the deadline on the cartel's appeal of the EU fines in Brussels. In May 2009, the U.K. Court of Appeal ruled the group had missed the deadline because the cartel appealed only the EU fines and not the price-fixing allegations.

After that court loss, the customers asked the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which handles U.K. antitrust cases, to use its discretion to extend their window for suing. The tribunal in November denied the request, which lead to the latest appeal.

A call to the law firm representing the customers, Taylor Vinters, wasn't immediately returned and the individual customers couldn't immediately be reached.