Colombia’s industrial regulator imposed combined fines of around $68 million for alleged price fixing against the top three cement companies operating in the country – Cementos Argos, Cemex Colombia and Holcim (Colombia) – as well as some of its executives, reported the Finance Colombia.
The three companies, according to the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (Superindustria), make up 96 percent of the Colombian cement market and allegedly agreed to set prices between January 2010 and December 2012, during which time cement prices increased 29.9 percent while inflation was only 9.3 percent. This led to suspiciously high profit margins for the companies.
The agency added that “the characteristics and structure of the cement market” in Colombia make this sector “highly prone to collusion” and cartel-like practices. It noted that “multiple investigations and sanctions” have resulted against cement companies for related practices in more than 30 countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, India, Brazil and Argentina. At least five investigations have been carried out against cement companies in Colombia since 1997, stated Superindustria.
The Bogotá-based authority levied fines of more than $25 million each to Cementos Argos and Cemex Colombia, and a fine of more than $18 million against Holcim (Colombia).
It also imposed fines ranging from around $90,000 to $120,000 against the presidents of the three cement companies in Colombia: Jorge Mario Velásquez Jaramillo of Argos, Carlos Jacks Chavarría of Cemex, and Miguel Ángel Rubalcava Méndez of Holcim. Two other executives of Argos and one other executive of Holcim were hit with fines ranging from around $8,000 to $37,000.
Both Holcim and Argos issued statements denying any wrongdoing.
“The company delivered timely and conclusive evidence that these anti-competitive behaviors never existed,” said Holcim in a statement. “The company reiterates that it has not engaged in any corporate activity or practice that could be questioned from a legal or ethical point of view.”
In an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Argos President Jorge Mario Velásquez reiterated his companies position that the fines were issued by a governmental body that used improper methods and reached an incorrect conclusion.
“We are not defiant – we are respectful of the law and institutions,” Velásquez said. “But, at the same time, we are outraged by the injustice of this decision … We will use all the legal tools at our disposal in order to demonstrate our good actions.”