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(Updates with commission comment in ninth paragraph.)
Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Solvay SA won a bid to annul antitrust fines totaling 23 million euros ($32 million) at the European Union’s top court in a ruling that will boost the company’s fourth-quarter profit by 15 million euros.
The European Commission, the 27-nation EU’s antitrust regulator “failed to respect Solvay’s right of access to the procedural file and its right to be heard,” the EU Court of Justice ruled in Luxembourg today.
The commission in December 2000 re-imposed fines on the Brussels-based company, the world’s largest soda-ash maker, a few months after an EU court threw out penalties originally levied in 1990. In its appeal, Solvay argued it didn’t have access to all the documents on which the commission’s claims were based. The agency admitted it had misplaced some documents, according to the court.
The missing sub-files may have contained evidence “which would have enabled” Solvay “to offer an interpretation of the facts different from the interpretation adopted by the commission, which could have been of use for its defense,” the court said.
Solvay shares rose as much as 2.3 percent to 76.30 euros after the announcement. The stock traded at 74.84 or 0.3 percent higher at 3:20 p.m. in Belgian trading.
“This is very positive news,” said Erik De Leye, a spokesman for Solvay in Brussels, by phone. “The ruling marks the end of the story.”
De Leye said the ruling will boost fourth-quarter profit by 15 million euros, which corresponds to the provision Solvay had made to cover the fine.
An EU court in 2009 cut the revised fine to 21.25 million euros. Solvay appealed to the EU’s highest tribunal to annul the commission’s decision or cut the fine “by a very substantial amount,” to compensate it “for the serious damage it suffered on account of the extraordinary length of the proceedings.”
Amelia Torres, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the regulator would study the judgments carefully and that EU procedures “have changed fundamentally in many aspects” since the first fine was imposed more than 20 years ago.
The commission, also based in Brussels, in 2000 fined Solvay 20 million euros for abuse of its dominant position in the market for soda ash, which is used to make glass, and 3 million euros for colluding on prices with a competitor in Germany.
The cases are C-109/10 P, C-110/10 P, Solvay v. European Commission.
--With assistance from John Martens and Aoife White in Brussels. Editors: Christopher Scinta, Peter Chapman
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