Germany’s cartel authority, the Bundeskartellamt, has imposed fines totalling 115 million Euros (AUD$165 million) on five leading manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses in Germany as well as seven company employees and the Central Association of Optometrists (ZVA) for their involvement in cartel agreements.
The companies involved are Rodenstock GmbH, Munich, Carl Zeiss Vision GmbH, Aalen, Essilor GmbH, Freiburg, Rupp+Hubrach Optik GmbH, Bamberg, and Hoya Lens Deutschland GmbH, Müllheim.
In a media statement following the massive fine, the President of the Bundeskartellamt, Andreas Mundt, said: “The price agreements of the manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses have for years virtually paralysed competition in this market. The companies agreed on a regular basis to raise prices demanded from opticians. In the end the consumers had to pay the bill, because the price increases were passed on to them.”
The Bundeskartellamt’s investigations discovered that the companies maintained two different types of anticompetitive agreements.
The statement claimed: “Since mid-2000 the five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses had met on a regular basis to coordinate their competitive behaviour. The HERRZ group, whose name corresponds to the first letters of the participating companies’ names, was founded on a mutual wish to maintain, as far as possible, existing market structures. In their meetings, the representatives of the companies agreed on price surcharges, as well as conditions, bonuses and discounts granted to opticians.
“In addition, they regularly informed one another of specific competitive measures, such as upcoming price increases”.
The investigations also disclosed that the German Optometrists’ Association (ZVA) had organised a pricing structure working group and with the five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses, agreed on non-binding price recommendations for opticians.
The statement read in part: “The majority of the opticians set their sales prices for ophthalmic lenses on the basis of these non-binding price recommendations.
The investigation began in mid-2008 following a tip off and led to searches of the premises of the companies concerned and the ZVA in which a great deal of evidence was seized.
Carl Zeiss Vision said it has cooperated fully from the start of the BKA’s investigation and as a result, the fine imposed on it by the BKA was reduced accordingly. Zeiss added that it may appeal the fine.
Rodenstock announced it had reached an agreement to pay a reduced fine and asserted that although the five lens suppliers were alleged to have colluded in fixing prices, “the sales prices of complete lenses or spectacles themselves were never included in these understandings.”
Hoya Corp’s German subsidiary, Hoya Lens Deutschland GmbH, said: “HODG has decided to accept part of the decision, however, it has decided to appeal against some part of the decision.”
Essilor said it is contesting the validity of the BKA’s conclusions as well as the amount of the fine, and plans to lodge an appeal with the Düsseldorf court. [copy ends]