01 October 2021

German beer cartel: three Kolsch breweries acquitted

Germany | In the legal procedures following accusations of beer cartel shenanigans, three Kölsch breweries from Cologne and two of their managers were acquitted of allegations of illegal price fixing.

The 4th Cartel Senate of the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf could not find any evidence of collusion among the breweries Früh, Gaffel and Erzquell, a court spokesman said on 8 September 2021. The Federal Cartel Office has already lodged a complaint against the acquittal, which means the case will be dealt with by the Federal Court of Justice.

The Cartel Office had fined the three breweries more than EUR 8 million (USD 9.5 million) combined, a decision they decided to fight in court. The court proceedings concerned the question of whether the breweries had agreed on higher prices for bottle and keg beer at their North Rhine-Westphalia Brewery Association meeting in September 2007.

The court could find no evidence of this. In fact, the court was presented with a bit of absurdist drama, as only two of the 14 witnesses could remember the meeting taking place at all. The memory of one witness was too vague for a conviction, the court said. The testimony of the other witness was overall chaotic, marked by bizarre mix-ups and in some cases incorrect.

All this makes you wonder about anti-trust proceedings in Germany: How could the Cartel Office issue fines to the Kölsch breweries if the evidence – two latterly lackadaisical witnesses – was ultimately proving so shaky?

In 2013 and 2014 the Cartel Office had imposed fines of around EUR 340 million (USD 400 million) on a total of eleven breweries and 14 top managers for collusions between 2006 and 2008.

One case is still preoccupying the judiciary: The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court is currently dealing with Carlsberg’s objection to the fine of EUR 62 million (USD 73 million) imposed on them by the Cartel Office.

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