Germany: No Koelsch cartel, three leading breweries acquitted

The seemingly endless trial of an alleged "Koelsch cartel" by the breweries Privatbrauerei Gaffel Becker & Co. (Gaffel), Cölner Hofbräu P. Josef Früh (Früh) and Erzquell Brauerei Bielstein Haas & Co. (Erzquell) ended on Wednesday with a direct acquittal for the accused. A court spokesman announced today that the Senate has acquitted the people involved “from the allegation of illegal price fixing”. The Federal Cartel Office had originally fined the three breweries more than 8 million euros.

“The Senate could not determine the alleged beer price agreements of the NRW [North-Rhine-Westfalia] breweries. Only two of the 14 witnesses believed that they remembered this. The memory of one of the witnesses was too vague to be convicted of illegal behavior,”said the Düsseldorf court spokesman. In the opinion of the Senate, the testimony of the other witness was “chaotic, characterized by bizarre mix-ups and in some cases incorrect, so that the witness later corrected his statements. For one of the accused persons it could not even be determined whether he took part in the committee meeting, "the spokesman continued.

Heinrich Philipp Becker, Managing Partner at Gaffel was satisfied after leaving the courtroom. “This is a relief for me personally and of course for our company. It's good that after 13 years of unrest there is finally clarity.”

“It was absolutely right to appeal. Because the fine from the Cartel Office was 900,000 euros, which is now off the table, ” confirmed Axel Haas, managing partner at Erzquell.

Alexander Rolff, Managing Partner at Früh added: “Based on unilateral testimonies, the Cartel Office has argued for years in the media and in court that leading national Pils brewers have fixed prices with the much smaller Cologne manufacturers. In return, these witnesses were given considerable financial benefits for their "confessions", some worth a few millions. We are glad that the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court has now highlighted this inadequate procedure through extensive interrogations of witnesses and acknowledged it through a corresponding judgment.

“We did not raise prices at all in the 2007 period in question, but nevertheless had to spend a lot of energy and money over the years to fight against the unjust allegations. We are now very relieved and hope that none of this will have a negative effect on our bewildered customers and consumers," he said.

However, one brewery is still faced with those allegations. Carlsberg Deutschland and its former CEO Wolfgang Burgard are still accused of alleged price agreement in 2007. While other “Pils brewers” sought a direct settlement with the authorities and accepted fines totaling EUR 106.5 million, the German subsidiary of Danish Carlsberg Group refused to do so and was brought to trial again. (, 12.8.2021)

It remains to be seen whether today's judgment will also have an impact on Carlsberg's trial.

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