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EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG (EBK) won a court challenge over access to confidential information held by the European Commission that could be used for lawsuits against a cartel of electrical equipment manufacturers.
The European Union’s General Court said EU antitrust regulators may have to re-examine its decision to prevent EnBW from seeing documents related to a cartel investigation, including a formal antitrust complaint and documents seized from the offices of companies involved.
EnBW bought gas-insulated switchgear from companies that were fined by the European Commission in 2007 for price-fixing. The Karlsruhe, Germany-based utility is seeking information from regulators’ files that it could use to bring lawsuits seeking damages from the equipment manufactures. The antitrust agency has resisted such requests because it says it must protect business secrets and an amnesty program for whistle-blowers.
“The contested decision must be annulled in its entirety” because the commission didn’t sufficiently justify its refusal to grant access to the information, the Luxembourg-based tribunal said in a ruling today.
The Brussels-based commission “will carefully examine this judgment and remains fully determined to protect its leniency program while at the same time ensuring an effective right to claim damages,” Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the regulator, said in an e-mail.
EnBW didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The EU fined 10 companies, including Areva SA (AREVA) and Alstom SA (ALO), a total of 750.7 million euros ($957 million) in January 2007 for colluding on prices and carving up the market for gas- insulated switchgear, used to control electrical flow, from 1988 to 2004.
National Grid Plc, which manages Britain’s power transmission network, is also seeking more than 200 million pounds ($315 million) in damages as a result of overcharging for power equipment sold by Siemens AG (SIE), ABB Ltd. (ABBN), Areva, VA Technologie AG and Alstom.
The General Court’s rulings can be appealed to the EU’s highest tribunal, the European Court of Justice.
The case is: T-344/08 EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG v Commission.
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