On 10 June, the BKartA imposed fines of €115 million on
five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses in Germany, seven employees
and the Central Association of Optometrists (ZVA) for their
participation in cartel agreements.
The fines have been imposed on Hoya Lens Deutschland GmbH
(Mühlheim) (Hoya Lens), Essilor GmbH (Freiburg), Rodenstock
GmbH (Munich) (Rodenstock), Rupp+Hubrach Optik GmbH (Bamberg) and
Carl Zeiss Vision GmbH (Aalen) (Carl Zeiss).
The BKartA conducted dawn raids in mid-2008 which started the
investigation. The dawn raids were not based on a tip-off from a
leniency applicant but were conducted based on the BKartA's own
suspicion. However, the fine on Rodenstock was heavily reduced
after it subsequently cooperated with the BKartA in the
investigation. Hoya Lens, Carl Zeiss and the ZVA also subsequently
cooperated with the BKartA and consequently received a reduction in
their respective fines.
The BKartA fined the undertakings for two different types of
the "HERRZ" group: in mid-2000, the five
manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses came together to form the HERRZ
group (the name corresponds to the first letter of the names of
each of the participating companies) and met on a regular basis to
coordinate their competitive behaviour. This included trying to
maintain existing market structures as well as agreeing on price
surcharges and conditions, bonuses and discounts granted to
opticians. The HERRZ group also kept all members regularly informed
on specific competitive measures such as upcoming price
ZVA "pricing structure working group": the same five
manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses formed another group, the ZVA
"pricing structure working group", as part of which they
agreed non-binding price recommendations for opticians. Most
opticians calculate the end-sale price of glasses to consumers by
reference to a formula that takes these non-binding price
recommendations into account, as well as the craftsmanship services
rendered by the opticians. The BKartA found that at group meetings
in 2005 the formula used for computing the non-binding price
recommendations was revealed and amendments for the subsequent
three years were agreed between the participants.
In a statement issued by Andreas Mundt, the President of the
BKartA, he refers to the price agreements between the manufacturers
of ophthalmic lenses as having "virtually paralysed
competition in th[e] market." This, according to Andreas
Mundt, led to consumers having to "pay the bill" as the
price increases were passed on to them.
The orders imposing the fines are not yet final and can be
appealed against. However, two of the companies concerned and the
ZVA have already agreed to settle the proceedings with the
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