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EU fines Japanese manufacturers for Betacam videotape price fixing

The European Commission has fined Sony, Fuji and Maxell nearly 75 million euros ($109.8 million) for fixing prices on Betacam SP and Digital Betacam cassettes for professional use.

“Between 1999 and 2002, Sony, Fuji and Maxell managed to raise or otherwise control prices through a series of regular meetings and other illicit contacts,” said European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

Sony’s fine was increased by 30 percent to just over 47 million euros after it obstructed the investigation. The fines for Fujifilm and Hitachi Maxell were reduced by 40 percent and 20 percent respectively — to 13.2 million and 14.4 million euros — after they co-operated with the investigation, Reuters reported.

The commission began an investigation with raids on EU subsidiaries of Sony, Fuji and Maxell in May 2002. The raids found “abundant evidence of cartel activities” according to the report, although a Sony employee refused to answer questions by EU officials, and another employee shredded documents during the raid, the commission said.

Reuters reported that Sony acknowledged its involvement only after receiving a formal charge sheet from the commission.

The cartel covered the two most popular professional videotape formats at the time — Betacam SP and Digital Betacam. In 2001, the formats, mainly sold to broadcasters and independent television producers, had total annual sales of 115 million euros in the EU and other European countries.

Sony, Fuji and Maxell controlled more than 85 percent of the professional videotape market. The trio “organized three successful rounds of price increases and endeavored to stabilize prices whenever an increase was not possible,” the commission said. The companies also regularly monitored the implementation of price agreements and had at least 11 meetings at which they organized the cartel.