On 29 January 2015, the Spanish Competition Authority (CNMC) announced the adoption of a decision (in case S/0453/12 Rodamientos Ferroviarios) fining companies in the Spanish industrial-bearing supply sector. Because of the evolution of the Spanish rail sector after its liberalisation, Renfe - the Spanish national rail company - has been virtually the only client in this market.
The investigation commenced as a result of the Spanish watchdog’s leniency programme. NSK Ltd and its subsidiary NSK Spain S.A. provided the CNMC with information relating to a cartel to fix prices and share markets, affecting the public procurement contracts opened by Renfe (and later by Renfe-Operadora) in the years 2004, 2007 and 2011. The effects of the cartel will, however, last until 2015 being the deadline for the execution of the 2011 tender.
According to the CNMC, managers of NSK, SKF and Schaeffler exchanged meetings and phone calls after every invitation to tender was published. During these contacts, the companies agreed a common position to respond to a public tender, fixing prices and sharing contracts.
In response to the 2004 public tender, the undertakings agreed to increase the prices and the quotas that each company would supply to Renfe. In 2007, they increased their prices by 14-16% in relation to a public tender with an estimated value of €15 million. For the 2011 public tender, with a value estimated at €11 million, the companies agreed to increase prices by 25-30%.
As a result of its inquiry, the CNMC considers that the companies engaged in an infringement of Article 1 of the Spanish Competition Act 15/2007 and Article 101 TFEU. The watchdog took into account the fact that these companies account for 80% of all of the suppliers of industrial-bearings in Spain and the consequences that the cartel has had for the Spanish public administration and citizens who support Renfe-Operadora, either by buying tickets or through taxes.
For these reasons, the Competition chamber decided to impose a fine equalling 15% of each company’s turnover in the last financial year. This is similar to the level of fine imposed on the same companies (amongst others) by the European Commission in relation to the industrial-bearings for automobiles cartel (part of the Commission's auto-parts investigation).
Applying the percentage to their turnover, the CNMC imposed the following fines:
- SKF Española S.A.: €2.860 million
- Schaefler Iberia, S.L.: €1.072 million
- NSK Spain, S.A.: €123,815
NSK Ltd. has however been exempted from its fine under the leniency programme as it was the first company to share evidence with the CNMC which led to the discovery of the cartel.
It is essential to recall that any person or company that has suffered adverse effects from the anti-competitive practices is entitled to seek loss and damage before the Spanish civil courts.