EU court scraps Grolsch 32 mln euro antitrust fine

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* Not sufficient proof of parent company’s liability
* Court ruling may force changes in EU fining policy
* Court had cut Heineken, Bavaria antitrust fines in June

Brewer Grolsch, part of SABMiller , will not have to pay a 31.7-million-euro ($43.32 million) EU antitrust fine because regulators failed to prove the parent company’s liability, an EU court ruled on Thursday.

The ruling by the Luxembourg-based General Court could force the European Commission to revise its fining policy, which puts the onus on parent companies for violations by their subsidiaries.

In practice this means regulators take the parent company’s global turnover into account when setting fines, which could result in a hefty figure.

Grolsch had argued that its subsidiary Grolsche Bierbrouwerij Nederland BV, and not the parent company, was liable for the violations as staff from the unit were involved in the cartel.

The court, Europe’s second-highest, backed Grolsch, saying the EU regulator had denied the parent company a chance to challenge its presumption.

“The Court … concludes that the evidence available to the Commission was not sufficient to establish the direct participation of Koninklijke Grolsch in the cartel,” the court said.

“The Commission failed to explain, in the decision, its reasons for attributing to Koninklijke Grolsch NV the conduct of its subsidiary.”

The court had in June cut regulatory fines levied on Dutch peers Heineken and Bavaria four years ago for fixing beer prices in the Netherlands, saying regulators did not have sufficient proof of wrongdoing.

The European Commission said the cartel operated between 1996 and 1999. ($1=.7317 Euro)