Milk prices prompt fines

Four dairy firms and six supermarkets were fined a total of 28.6 million euros for fixing retail prices of dairy products, the country’s competition watchdog said yesterday. The Competition Commission said milk producers, distributors and supermarkets made agreements which had a direct impact on prices paid by consumers. «Dairy producers often outline in cooperation agreements concluded with distributors the prices that supermarkets will be charged… violating the basic rules of competition,» the commission said. «Additionally, dairy producers to a large extent dictate the level of retail prices (charged by supermarkets), which weakens competition among retailers to the detriment of consumers.» The largest fine announced yesterday – 21.8 million euros – was imposed against food conglomerate Vivartia. Fines on the other three dairy companies – Mevgal, Fage and Olympos – ranged from -40,000 to -3 million. Supermarkets Carrefour Marinopoulos, Alfa-Beta Vassilopoulos, Veropoulos, Atlantic Supermarket, Sklavenitis and D. Masoutis will be required to pay up to 1.07 million euros in penalties with the lowest fine set at 68,000 euros. Prices charged for dairy products in Greece are believed to be among the highest in the European Union, despite the country’s relatively low level of per capita income. Earlier this month, the commission fined seven dairy companies a total of 48.3 million euros for similiar offenses. Companies can appeal the decision but can only do so after paying 20 percent of the fine. Although fines are often imposed by government officials, authorities are frequently accused of foot-dragging by the local press when it comes to collecting the respective amounts. Sources said yesterday that if an appeals tribunal ratifies the penalties, the amount is collected by the tax office and the commission has no further role in the matter.