On 20 August 2019, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland (the “SAC”) gave its decision regarding the so-called bus cartel case in Finland.
The Market Court had already in 2017 found several bus companies, the Finnish Bus and Coach Association and Matkahuolto, which is a service and marketing company promoting bus and coach services in Finland, (the “cartel participants”) to have formed a cartel.
In its ruling, the SAC stated that the cartel participants committed competition infringement by excluding certain new scheduled services on Matkahuolto’s scheduling, ticketing and parcel services after the market had been opened up to competition. The purpose of the cartel was therefore to systematically impede the opening of the bus market to competition, thereby harming consumers in the form of weakened price and quality competition.
The SAC imposed penalty payments of EUR 8.9 million in total to the cartel participants. As an example, Matkahuolto was imposed a fine amounting to EUR 4.3 million and one of the bus companies EUR 2.3 million. By way of comparison, the Market Court had earlier ordered each of the cartel participants to pay EUR 100,000 as a penalty payment. The increase of the amount of fines was therefore significant in respect of several cartel participants.
According to the SAC, the decision of the Market Court regarding the penalty payments had to be amended on the grounds of equal treatment. In accordance with SAC’s reasoning, the imposition of the same amount of penalty on different sized economic entities without providing sufficient reasons was contrary to the principle of equal treatment of the parties.
The SAC also considered the Finnish Bus and Coach Association to be a separate legal entity from the companies involved although the bus companies, which are members of the Finnish Bus and Coach Association, contribute to the financing of the association by paying membership fees, for example. The SAC therefore did not consider the imposition of fines on the Finnish Bus and Coach Association to violate the ne bis in idem principle.
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