Germany: Beer market leader Radeberger to accept fine in beer cartel case

Germany’s largest brewing consortium Radeberger Group and its former CEO Albert Christmann, who took over the position as CEO of the whole Oetker Group from patriarch Richard Oetker at the end of last year, is going to accept a fine of €160 million, which was imposed by the German Federal Cartel Office in relation to a beer cartel case from 2014. Manager Magazin cited people close to the matter that the German beer market leader could finally accept the fine to spare stressful court proceedings in the summer with compulsory attendance for Christmann on about 40 days of the trial.

When the case was opened in 2014, Christmann denied any responsibility of his company and himself. "The Radeberger Group was not involved in a price agreement," said the Oetker subsidiary at that time. However, the investigators said they have evidence that "those responsible at the breweries" have agreed price increases for bottled and draft beer at meetings of the Competition Committee of the Brewery Association North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on June 14, 2006 and on September 5, 2007.

On December 27, 2013 and March 31, 2014, the German Federal Cartel Office imposed fines totaling around €338 million against 11 breweries, one association (Brewery Association NRW) and 14 private individuals. The fine for the inviduals amounted to €3.6 million, taking into account the statutory provision, which limits fines for individuals to €1 million.

A handful of companies, including Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH (Bitburger), Krombacher Brauerei Bernhard Schadeberg GmbH & Co. KG (Krombacher), C. & A. Veltins GmbH & Co. KG (Veltins), Warsteiner Brauerei Haus Cramer KG (Warsteiner) and Privatbrauerei Ernst Barre GmbH (Barre) sought a direct settlement with the authorities and accepted fines totaling €106.5 million. Others like Carlsberg Deutschland GmbH (Carlsberg), Radeberger Gruppe KG (Radeberger), Privat-Brauerei Gaffel Becker & Co. OHG (Gaffel), Erzquell Brauerei Bielstein Haas & Co. KG (Erzquell), Privat-Brauerei Bolten GmbH & Co. KG (Bolten), Cölner Hofbräu and P. Josef Früh KG (Früh) opposed the claim and face now a trial.

After the retreat of Radeberger and Christmann, especially Carlsberg and its former CEO Wolfgang Burghard might be the only ones facing the trial and a €62 million fine (+ individual fine for Burghard) since the smaller regional breweries hope for a special treatment, claiming that they did not attend one of the two relevant meetings were they allegedly talked about an increase in beer prices.

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