• Professional News
  • 02 February 2011

EUR 38m fine imposed on company

The Court has upheld the Commission's decision of imposing a EUR 38m fine on the company E.ON Energie AG for breaking the seal of a room during the Commission's investigations.

On a current basis, the Commission investigates companies suspected of having committed competition law violations. In that connection, the Commission may choose to physically seal a room at the company's premises for the purpose of securing evidence and for subsequent investigation. Article 23 of Regulation 1/2003 allows the Commission to impose a fine of 1% of the preceding year's turnover on the company in the event that the said seal is broken intentionally or negligently. 

The Commission imposed a fine of EUR 38m on E.ON Energie AG, which amounted to approx. 0.14% of the company's turnover of the preceding year as the seal of a room at the company's premises had been broken. The Court has now upheld the said decision. 

In that connection, the Court stated that the Commission does not have to prove: 

  • how the seal was actually broken; 
  • whether any one had actually broken into the sealed room;
  • that the evidence had actually been manipulated with.

The only proof to be provided by the Commission is that the seal has been broken. Consequently, the company E.ON Energie AG did not succeed in its submission that the defendant must be given the benefit of the doubt. In addition, the company did not succeed in convincing the Court of alternative explanations for the broken seal, for example that vibrations or humidity could be the cause of the broken seal, that the sealing foil had originally not adhered to the front of the door or that a cleaning company had possibly broken the seal when dusting. 

Therefore, the Court dismissed all claims as well as alternative explanations on the part of E.ON Energie AG and found that the Commission had discharged the burden of proof. In the opinion of the Court, the amount of the fine was not disproportional to the company's size as well as the importance of fines' deterrent effect in the event of sealed rooms in competition cases. Consequently, the amount of the fine of EUR 38m was upheld.    

(Court judgment in case T-141/08 E.ON Energie AG mod Kommissionen)
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