On 11 February 2014, the Dusseldorf Higher Regional Court in Germany imposed a €55million fine on Melitta Europe GmbH & Co. KG. The judgment confirms that a company cannot avoid liability for a fine imposed by the German competition regulator, the Bundeskartellamt, by carrying out a corporate reorganisation.
Melitta, a coffee producer, had according to the Bundeskartellamt instigated an internal reorganisation of their group company structures to try and avoid the fine imposed on them in 2009. The original fine was imposed on Melitta Kaffee GmbH for participation in planned price increases with competitors producing roasted coffee products between 2000 and 2008. In the regulators view, the company then restructured to merge with one of its affiliates; Melitta Europe (mentioned above) to try and avoid the liability to pay the fine.
The Dusseldorf Court in the present case held that such manoeuvres will not avoid liability for fines and Melitta Europe was held liable for the full amount. Since the current case began, the previous loophole that had existed in allowing companies to avoid liability through corporate reorganisation has been closed by the 8th amendment to the Act Against Restraints of Competition.
Melitta have now appealed this decision of the Regional Court to the Federal Court of Justice and the judgment is awaited with interest.