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2008年11月15日 (土)


The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 15, 2008)

Crack down on cartels with harsher penalties

カルテル 制裁強化で違反抑止を図れ(1115日付・読売社説)

Japanese, U.S. and European Union antitrust watchdogs have recently meted out a flurry of penalties to companies.


Driving up prices of products through forming a cartel is a malicious act that will eventually leave consumers out of pocket by forcing them to pay higher prices for products.


In Japan, it is essential for the Fair Trade Commission to do its utmost to crack down on cartels, while beefing up penalties, including raising fines the FTC imposes, to make companies think twice about violating the law.


The FTC this time plunged the scalpel into cartels allegedly formed by four major steel companies over the sale of galvanized steel plates. The FTC has filed criminal complaints with the public prosecutors against all but one company, which voluntary reported its involvement in the cartels, on suspicion of violating the Antimonopoly Law.


It has been pointed out that the steel industry still has a deep-rooted tendency to form cartels, as evidenced by its history of having received administrative punishments over cartels formed over the sale of stainless steel plates.



U.S., EU take hard line

Meanwhile, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, announced Wednesday that it had imposed a fine of more than 1.3 billion euro, or nearly 170 billion yen, on four European and Japanese car glass producers, including Asahi Glass Co., for price-fixing. Asahi Glass was fined about 14 billion yen.


The U.S. Justice Department has found wrongdoing in the activities of three liquid crystal display makers--Japan's Sharp Corp., a South Korean company and a Taiwanese company. The department on Wednesday imposed fines totaling 585 million dollars (about 55 billion yen) on the three companies for conspiring to prevent the prices of LCD monitors used for personal computers from dropping. Sharp faces a fine of about 11.5 billion yen.


As the FTC and EC are also investigating cartels over the sales of LCD screens, it is possible that criminal or administrative fines imposed on LCD makers will expand.


What is conspicuous in the recent spate of cartel cases is the huge amounts of fines imposed by the EU and U.S. authorities. The United States imposes a fine of up to 80 percent of sales of the products found to have been sold at higher prices through cartels, while the EU imposes a fine of up to 10 percent of each company's total sales.



Firms need to realize risks

In Japan, on the other hand, the upper limit of criminal fines slapped on violators is 500 million yen. The upper limit of administrative fines that the FTC can impose in addition to criminal fines is 10 percent of sales of the products transacted through cartels. Repeat offenders, however, would see their administrative fines boosted by 50 percent.


A bill to revise the Antimonopoly Law that is under deliberation at the Diet would enable the FTC to impose a fine 50 percent higher on companies that have played a leading role in forming cartels. The statute of limitations for prosecuting violators would be extended from three years to five years.


Due to bitter rivalry between the ruling and opposition camps, deliberations on the legislation are not progressing. The bill needs to be passed through the Diet, but even if the revised law is enacted, Japan's punitive measures will remain far lighter than those of the United States and EU nations.


Wouldn't it be advisable for Japan to consider gradually raising criminal and administrative fines with international standards in mind?


Antitrust watchdogs in other countries are adopting ever-harsher stances toward cartels and bid-rigging. Japanese companies must take to heart the fact that their very existence could be jeopardized unless they operate in compliance with law.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 15, 2008)

200811150154  読売新聞)


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