June 22, 2004

Chemical Makers Inform on One Another in Cartel Cases, WSJ Says

Bayer AG, Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. are among companies targeted in price-fixing probes by European and U.S. investigators that were triggered by ``whistle- blowers,'' the Wall Street Journal reported, citing lawyers close to the investigations.

The cases show that granting an amnesty from criminal charges to the first company to inform the authorities of a pricing conspiracy can be an effective weapon against cartels, the newspaper said.

In a plea agreement announced in April, Crompton Corp., of Connecticut, acknowledged conspiring with others to inflate prices of chemicals used to make rubber between 1995 and 2001 and paid a $50 million fine; Crompton itself had been identified by a competitor that had gone to the U.S. Justice Department, the Journal said.

Investigators are now looking into alleged conspiracies to fix prices of several chemicals used in plastics, rubber and synthetic materials in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Japan, the paper said.

At least four grand-jury investigations are under way in San Francisco, and markets under scrutiny include urethane, a widely used plastic, and neoprene, a synthetic rubber, according to the Journal.

Hewitt Pate, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, said in an interview with the paper that the Crompton plea ``is the first of more to come,'' mainly as a result of the amnesty program, which ``encourages violators to turn on each other.''

In the neoprene inquiry, Bayer won the race for amnesty from the Justice Department, but in a parallel civil suit, Dow and DuPont beat Bayer to it, reaching agreements with lawyers for companies that were overcharged, the Journal said. (source: Bloomberg)