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Chile pharmacy admits price-fixing; peers deny it

SANTIAGO, March 25 (Reuters) - One of Chile’s leading pharmacy chains has admitted to collusion with rivals to push up prices and agreed to pay a $1 million fine, triggering angry denials from the competitors.

Farmacias Ahumada FAS.SN, or FASA, admitted late on Tuesday that some of its executives had coordinated prices with its competition, Chile's state prosecutor on antitrust issues said on its website (www.fne.cl).

“Chile’s second-biggest chain of pharmacies, FASA ... agreed to pay the equivalent of more than $1 million after its executives participated in a pact to raise prices in a coordinated manner and with (competitors) Salcobrand and Cruz Verde,” the state prosecutor said.

The price-fixing took place between November 2007 and March 2008, it added. The three chains account for the lion’s share of the Chilean market.

Salcobrand dismissed Farmacias Ahumada’s admission as “infamy,” while Cruz Verde said there was no coordination over prices.

“We categorically deny the accusation made by FASA, which seeks to involve us in the said pact,” Salcobrand said in a statement overnight. “Salcobrand has taken no part whatsoever in this illegal action.”

Cruz Verde said in a separate statement that it “does not know why Farmacias Ahumada said there was price coordination,” adding it had not coordinated prices with its competitors. (Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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