On 6 October 2015, the General Court ("GC") dismissed an application brought by Corporación Empresarial de Materiales de Construcción (formerly known as "Uralita") for annulment of a Commission Decision in the Sodium Chlorate cartel. The GC rejected Uralita's claim that the Commission did not adhere to the applicable time-limits. More specifically, the GC found that the Commission's decision to grant conditional immunity to an undertaking constitutes an act that will interrupt the five-year limitation period in Article 25(1) Regulation 1/2003 for all cartel participants.
On 11 June 2008, the Commission adopted a decision against Uralita and its (former) wholly-owned subsidiary ("Aragonesas") for an infringement in the sodium chlorate sector between 1996 and 2000. Aragonesas and Uralita independently challenged the Commission Decision before the GC. On 25 October 2011, the GC partially granted Aragonesas' action, reducing the infringement period, limiting it to 28 January 1998 - 31 December 1998 and adjusting the fine accordingly. Uralita's action for annulment, however, was dismissed in its entirety.
On 27 March 2012, acting on its own initiative, the Commission adopted an amending decision in order to bring the infringement period and the fine attributed to Uralita as the parent company of Aragonesas in line with the judgment in Aragonesas. Subsequently, Uralita challenged the amending decision before the GC, claiming that the Commission was time-barred from imposing a new fine in the amending decision. According to Uralita, the Commission relied on a request for information in 2004 as the first action that interrupted the applicable five-year limitation period in the 2008 decision. In light of the shorter infringement period imputed to it now, the five-year limitation period would have started to run in 1998 and ended in 2003 (i.e. before the first interruption action took place).
The GC dismissed Uralita's argument. It ruled that the amending decision did not impose a new fine but had "the purpose and effect of maintaining in part the fine initially imposed on the applicant in the 2008 decision". As a result, account should be taken of the date of the initial decision and not the date of the amending decision in assessing the alleged violation of the time-limits. The GC concluded that the five-year limitation period did not prevent the Commission from imposing a fine on Uralita in this case. The applicable limitation period had been interrupted when the Commission granted conditional immunity to another undertaking in 2003. This action interrupted the limitation periods for all participants in the cartel.
This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of November 2015. Other articles in this newsletter:
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