ECONOMY

Record fine for HBC

The Competition Commission has imposed a fine of over 2.9 million euros on Coca-Cola – Hellenic Bottling Company for «abuse of prominent market position.» The fine imposed is the heaviest ever, although it may well be exceeded by a pending case involving passenger shipper Minoan Flying Dolphins – now renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins. The case was brought before the Commission by the Panhellenic Association of Soft Drinks Makers in 1991 but was not taken up until last year, because of a heavy workload and a shortage of personnel, according to the Commission’s own explanation to a parliamentary committee. The Association had accused HBC – as it was called then – of imposing an «unfair» price structure, of excluding competitors by threatening to exclude distributors from its network and of providing retail outlets with refrigerators based on the understanding that they would exclusively carry its products. After taking months to examine the case, the Competition Commission found yesterday that «Coca-Cola HBC had violated article 2 of Law 703/1977… The Commission imposes a fine of 2,934,702.86 euros, which corresponds to 0.59 percent of [the company’s] turnover.» The turnover referred to above represents the company’s operations in Greece alone, and not in the more than 20 countries it operates. Coca-Cola HBC is the second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products globally. Additionally, the Commission forces the company to remove the exclusiveness clause from the refrigerators it offers retailers within a month. Failure to comply on time will incur a daily fine of 5,869 euros. «This decision is a first step toward halting Coca-Cola HBC’s aggressive practices. However, the fine imposed is not really a deterrent. We are talking about a colossus in this case,» P. Rizos, a lawyer employed by the Soft Drink Makers’ Association, told Kathimerini. The Association complains that the Competition Commission did not take into account Coca-Cola HBC’s considerable turnover abroad. Moreover, according to the law, the Commission can impose a maximum fine equal to 15 percent of a company’s turnover. The Competition Commission still has to rule on Coca-Cola HBC’s incentives to supermarkets and fast food chains, such as Goody’s, Pizza Hut and KFC.