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Australian Antitrust Class Action Nears Settlement

“Vitamins Class Action” Defense Attorneys and Plaintiffs’ Lawyer Present Proposed $30.5 Settlement to Court

On July 17, 2006, the parties involved in Amsterdam’s first cartel class action appeared in court to seek approval of a $30.5 million settlement after a 7-year legal battle. The “vitamins class action’ named Roche, BASF and Aventis and alleged unfair competition price fixing from 1989-1999 for vitamins A, B2, B5, C, E, and beta carotene. Reportedly the Australian Federal Court permitted the case to proceed as a class action in 2002. The victims of the price fixing scheme – which involved vitamins used for animal nutrition – allegedly lost market share or paid inflated prices.

The class action was precipitated by actions initiated by the European Commission alleging a worldwide antitrust conspiracy to fix prices that included not only Roche, BASF and Aventis, but Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Merck, Daiichi Pharmaceutical, Eisai, Takeda Chemical Industries, Lonza, Kongo Chemical, Sumitomo Chemical, Sumika Fine Chemicals and Tanabe Saiyaku as well. The EU began its investigation in May 1999, and concluded that 13 companies had participated in cartels aimed at eliminating competition in vitamin markets involving vitamin A, B1, B2, B5, B6, C, D3, E, Biotin (H), Folic Acid (M), beta carotene and carotinoids. On November 21, 2001, the EU ended its investigation into what its antitrust chief called the “most damaging series of cartels the commission has ever investigated” by fining eight (8) companies a combined total of more than 855 million euros. (It did not fine the last five companies listed because the statute of limitations had run.)

Note: The plaintiffs’ lawyer reportedly believes that settlement of this class action – if approved – will impact an antitrust class action she has filed against Amcor alleging price fixing of cardboard boxes. Earlier this month, Amcor filed a cross-claim against rival Visy, seeking to bring it into the class action. News reports state that Visy intends to vigorously fight the charges.