Dole Food Co. and Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. were fined 60.3 million euros ($82 million) by European Union regulators over claims that the banana importers fixed prices in eight countries from 2000 to 2002.
Dole was fined 45.6 million euros and Fresh Del Monte is jointly responsible for a 14.7-million-euro fine along with Internationale Fruchtimport Gesellschaft Weichert & Co., the European Commission said in Brussels. Chiquita Brands International Inc. avoided a penalty of 83.2 million euros because it told regulators about the price-fixing cartel.
"It is totally unacceptable for companies to have rigged prices in this manner, and the companies concerned must learn the hard way that the commission will not tolerate such behavior," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.
The commission's decision comes after a three-year probe into banana imports. The market for bananas in the eight countries, including Austria, Denmark and Germany, amounted to about 2.5 billion euros in 2002.
Dole, based in Westlake Village, said it didn't believe that it violated competition law and would appeal the fines.
The commission didn't specify how Fresh Del Monte and Weichert would apportion the fine.
Fresh Del Monte said the commission's assertion that it was liable for Weichert's conduct was "without merit" because it held only a "noncontrolling financial interest" in the company. Fresh Del Monte may appeal the decision. Fresh Del Monte also said some of its units that were investigated by the EU weren't found to have violated competition rules.
The EU regulator's decision covers the companies' activities from Jan. 1, 2000, to December 2002.
The EU probe began in June 2005, when inspectors raided the offices of fruit suppliers. Chiquita, the largest banana seller in Europe, said in a June 2005 statement that some of its employees shared pricing and volume information over many years with competitors and may have violated EU competition law.