Brussels - European Union anti-trust authorities on Tuesday slapped multi-million euro fines on consumer electronics firms from Japan, Taiwan and the Netherlands for fixing prices for online retailers.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, imposed fines totalling more than 111 million euros on Asus of Taiwan, Philips of the Netherlands as well as on Pioneer and Denon & Marantz, both of Japan.
The EU's competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said consumers needed to be protected in a rapidly growing online commerce market now worth more than 500 billion euros in Europe annually.
"As a result of the actions taken by these four companies, millions of European consumers faced higher prices for kitchen appliances, hair dryers, notebook computers, headphones and many other products," Vestager said.
"This is illegal under EU antitrust rules," the Danish commissioner added.
Threats of punishment
The commission said the four forced online retailers to set higher prices for products or face threats or punishment, including having their supplies blocked.
It said the manufacturers used sophisticated monitoring techniques to track resale prices in the distribution network and intervened quickly if prices decreased.
It said Asus, for example, monitored resale prices for notebooks and displays in Germany and France between 2011 and 2014, intervening to keep prices at recommended levels.
Denon & Marantz, it said, set prices for items like headphones and speakers of the brands Denon, Marantz and Boston Acoustics in Germany and the Netherlands between 2011 and 2015.
It said Philips fixed prices in France between 2011 and 2013 for kitchen appliances, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners, home cinema and home video systems, electronic toothbrushes and hair dryers.
Pioneer intervened on pricing for iPod speakers, speaker sets, hi-fi products and limited retailers' ability to sell products across borders in 12 EU countries between 2011 and 2013.
Those countries were Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway.
The commission said the fines were sharply reduced for the four companies because they admitted the breaches and cooperated with the probe.
Asus was fined more than 63 million euros, Denon & Marantz nearly 8 million euros, Philips nearly 30 million euros and Pioneer more than 10 million euros.
The fines for the first three were reduced by 40 percent, while for Pioneer it was cut by 50%.
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