Mercedes-Benz and three commercial vehicle dealers have been fined a total of £2.6m for infringing competition law.
The OFT has today announced that Mercedes-Benz and three of its commercial vehicle dealers, Ciceley, Road Range and Enza, have admitted infringing competition law and agreed to pay fines totalling £2.6 million.
Provided it continues to cooperate with the OFT, a further dealer, Northside, which has also admitted infringing competition law, will avoid a fine, having been the first company to come forward after the investigation commenced to provide valuable evidence of collusion in return for immunity from penalty under the OFT's leniency policy.
Today's announcement concerns three separate admitted infringements of competition law involving the distribution of Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles.
The dealers involved are mainly active in areas within the North of England and parts of Wales and Scotland. The nature of the infringements varies but all contain at least some element of market sharing, price coordination or exchange of commercially sensitive information.
Not every settlement party was involved in every infringement and the conduct, products and duration vary from infringement to infringement. The infringements being settled relate to: the distribution of vans between 15 January 2008 and 26 January 2010, involving Ciceley and Northside; the distribution of vans between 1 February 2008 and 26 January 2010, involving Ciceley and Road Range; the distribution of trucks between 8 December 2009 and 26 January 2010, involving Ciceley, Enza, Mercedes-Benz and Road Range.
Ali Nikpay, OFT senior director of cartels, said: "These cases send a clear signal that the OFT will take firm action against companies that collude to deny customers the benefit of fair competition regardless of the size of the firms involved or geographic scope of the investigation.
"These cases also underline that the OFT can uncover cartels even in cases where the businesses involved do not blow the whistle, as well as being a concrete illustration of the benefits of businesses acting quickly and cooperating at the earliest opportunity so as to qualify for immunity from fines."
The agreed fines include a 15% reduction from the total penalties of £3.07 million that the OFT would otherwise expect to impose, to reflect the companies' admissions and agreement to a streamlined administrative procedure.
Breakdown of the fines:
Mercedes-Benz UK Limited - £1,492,646
Road Range Limited - £115,774
Ciceley Commercials Limited - £659,675
Enza Motors Limited- £347,198
Mercedes-Benz UK has issued the following statement in response to the OFT's announcement:
"Mercedes-Benz regrets the incident and has learned a lot from it.
"The company has strengthened its internal controls, and every member of staff participates in comprehensive and ongoing Integrity training programmes.
"The company and its staff have fully co-operated with the investigators over the past three years.
"This thorough OFT investigation took three years to complete, and the agreed settlement with Mercedes-Benz UK relates to one meeting held in late 2009. The settlement figure, based on company turnover, is £1.49 million.
"The settlement reached with the OFT draws the investigation into this matter to a close.
"Mercedes-Benz takes its responsibilities under competition law seriously and has taken all appropriate steps to ensure all its staff comply fully with the law."